We hope that you will thoroughly enjoy this article about 4 Geological Wonders of Antarctica. There is far more to this region of the world than just the vast wasteland many people consider it to be. The features presented herein represent just a few of the marvels found there. So, sit back, and let us show you a few of the wonders found i this surprising region of the world.
McMurdo Dry Valleys
McMurdo Dry Valleys Facts
- The first location for inclusion in this article about 4 Geological Wonders of Antarctica is the awesome site known as the McMurdo Dry Valleys.
- First of all, the region collectively known as the McMurdo Dry Valleys easily ranks as one of the most extreme deserts known to man. This remains especially remarkable given one particular fact. That holds true because the incredible feature formed in a section of the continent of Antarctica.
- However, even in this extremely inhospitable environment, Nature finds a way to adapt. Certain types of photosynthetic bacteria inhabit the comparatively damp interiors of rocks in the area. Further, incredible bacteria with metabolisms based entirely on sulfur and iron appear to thrive under a local glacier.
- The magnificent location includes numerous geological features to amaze the rare explorer. These include more than a dozen separate valleys and eleven recognized glaciers. In addition, due to a rather high saline content, liquid water flows in parts of the area. This amazing combination of factors allows a total of eight meltwater streams to form, as well as twelve small lakes.
McMurdo Dry Valleys Geology
Firstly, the stunning McMurdo Dry Valleys formed in conjunction with what geologists call the Beacon Supergroup. This formed during a period from 400 – 250 million years ago. Further, the region also cuts through sections of even older rock formations, largely consisting of various types of granite.
Relatively large quantities of unsorted glacial sediment, known as tills, also cover the exposed areas of bedrock. But, these deposits, in themselves fascinating, appear in widely scattered pockets. These largely differ in composition from tills found in other parts of the world. Most others remain rich in mud.
This rather sharp contrast occurs as a result of the unique nature of their origin. In this location, the tills deposited from extremely cold-based ice. Similar deposits in other regions, however, formed as primarily moist-based. Finally, as a result of these factors, large amount of loose gravel also dot the landscape of the region.
McMurdo Dry Valleys Location and Climate
The marvelous McMurdo Dry Valleys reside in one of the southernmost regions of the Southern Hemisphere. More specifically, the formation sits within the region known as Victoria Land. This geological wonder also sits roughly due west of the stunning site known as McMurdo Sound.
In addition, the austerely beautiful region has a total area of roughly 1,900 sq mi (4,800 sq km). This accounts for a respectable 0.03% of the total area of the entire continent. It also, unsurprisingly, represents the largest ice-free region of the entire continent of Antarctica.
The fascinating section of the world derives its name from its remarkable climate. That’s because, despite its location, it remains one of the most arid places on the planet. This extreme lack of humidity contributes to, but does not solely account for, the lack of any permanent accumulations of snow or ice.
The tiny average precipitation of only 100 mm per year occurs also occurs due to the relatively great height of the surrounding mountains. These features, in themselves awesome, serve to prevent the advance of the local ice sheet. This fact plays another part in the nature of the valleys.
Yet, the extreme winds in the region, known as katabatic winds, also play a pivotal role in its aridity. These powerful, relatively warm winds, often achieve speeds of 200 mph (320 kph). These powerful natural winds, therefore, serve to rapidly evaporate any deposited ice or snow.
Onyx River Facts
- The next of our choices for listing in this compendium of 4 Geological Wonders of Antarctica is the awesome Onyx River.
- Perhaps most notably, despite its common name, the small flow does not actually qualify as a true river. In point of fact, the quite remarkable manifestation of geology actually represents a feature known as a meltwater stream. Furthermore, this site remains located in a remote portion of the world. Therefore, few people ever see it.
- In addition, this rather surprising fact stands out in the minds of many for a very unique reason. That’s interesting the fact that no true rivers exist anywhere on the entire continent. However, its geological uniqueness, along with that of other meltwater streams in Antarctica, makes these rare occurrences qualify as rivers.
- Further, the small but lovely Onyx River remains by far the largest of the nine semi-permanent meltwater streams present on the remote continent. Additionally, the site also serves as the most ecologically important of the nine. Unfortunately, all of them appear only during the few short months of the local summer season.
- However, although the incredible body of water remains considered a river, albeit a small one, no fish live in its waters. Regardless of this fact, its waters do support a remarkably diverse assortment of microscopic life. Finally, the fascinating algae blooms that often form within its waters can sometimes be quite extensive.
Onyx River Physical Description
First of all, given its highly unique nature, the physical characteristics of the Onyx River understandably vary. But, when present, the small body of water flows westward through the Wright Valley. It also originates from the melting water of the Wright Lower Glacier, itself an astounding location.
Yet, it also conceals another surprising fact. Quite interestingly, this beautiful yet freezing flow of meltwater does not flow into the ocean. The small river represents an excellent example of what is popularly known as endorheic drainage. This means the river it has no naturally occurring outflow to the ocean.
Along with numerous other factors, its dimensions vary from season to seson. Yet, some measurements remain roughly the same during the time it does appear. The total length of the river measures about 20 mi (32 km). Winding along its course, it also forms several smaller, equally fascinating tributaries.
Additionally, when it does make its appearances, the final destination of the Onyx River remains the body of water known as Lake Vanda. Multiple monitoring stations exist along its length, to study and monitor its impact on the surrounding environment. Some seasons, the water evaporate before it reaches the lake.
Onyx River Monitoring and Importance
The remarkable Onyx River, despite its high degree of variability, in fact serves as one of the most interesting features in its area. As difficult as it may be to imagine, this marvel of Nature appears in what may be considered the least likely location. That’s on the continent of Antarctica.
Furthermore, the wonder of Nature also constitutes a region of particular and ongoing scientific interest. Due to this fact, the river serves as one of the many sites studied by the United States Antarctic Program of the National Science Foundation. This program continues to be ongoing.
Also, the Antarctica New Zealand program also previously maintained a semi-permanent camp at Lake Vanda. But, this camp has since been removed. A small research shelter still exists at Lake Vanda at its eastern end. Nearby is the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty seismic station at Bull Pass.
Furthermore, the unique brine flow of the Onyx River has an important ecological impact on the surrounding area. In addition to the microscopic life in its waters, a few small species also exist in it. These include nematodes. Gulls also sometimes make an appearance. Therefore, many countries believe that monitoring the site remains of great importance.
Blood Falls Facts
- Placing third among our selections of 4 Geological Wonders of Antarctica, though only due to random selection, is the amazing Blood Falls.
- First of all, the astounding natural site known by the misleading name forms an extraordinarily unique wonder of Nature. In addition, the incredible feature of geology actually represents an amazing outpouring of melting salt water. Further, to the continual surprise of many people, this very slowly flows out from a point on the Taylor Glacier.
- From there, the remarkable wonder of Nature pours continuously onto the frozen surface of West Lake Bonney. Furthermore, this truly impressive glacier itself lies in what now bears the name of the McMurdo Dry Valleys. This location in turn sits in the eastern section of Antarctica. This feature remains quite famous for its constant blood red color.
- In addition to everything else, the same processes which form this wonder of Nature also serve to make Blood Falls of extraordinary interest to many microbiologists. Amazingly, it also continues to be of great interest to astrobiologists, as well. These study it as a means of evaluating the possibility of life’s existence in harsh environments on other planets.
Blood Falls Natural Formation
Most notably, the remarkable Blood Falls boasts a truly unique and utterly distinctive geochemistry. In addition, it remains the only site of its kind known to exist. That holds true due to the fact that the formation actually constitutes an outpouring of iron-rich, hyper-saline water. Furthermore, this water flows from small fractures laced throughout the many layers of ice.
But its unique chemical composition does not represent the only surprising aspect of the site. That’s because a large sub-glacial pool serves as the source of the water. Further, this collection of water itself lies beneath approximately 1,300 ft (400 m) of ice. Not only that, but this remarkable pool also sits about 2 mi (3.2 km) from the point where it emerges from the ice.
In addition, the precise size of the pool that spawns the impressive Blood Falls also remains undetermined. Beneath the glacier, and between it and the underlying rock layer, sits a region of brine. Additionally, this brine possesses such a high saline level that it has remained liquid. Finally, extremely high concentrations of ferric oxide within the deposit create a unique color.
Blood Falls Microbial Ecosystem
Perhaps most surprisingly on of all, due to its inherently unique development, Blood Falls also contains an incredible ecosystem of its own. Firstly, within its depths, autotrophic bacteria evolved. Secondly, and quite amazingly, those actually metabolize ferric materials and sulfates for nourishment. In simple language, these bacteria essentially consume iron.
Furthermore, a detailed scientific analysis of the water of the falls reveals yet another startling fact. That’s because any such analysis immediately reveals that the water contains a total of at least 17 different species of microbes. Not only that, but the astounding liquid also contains virtually no oxygen. Perhaps due to this, these microbes utilize sulfates as a catalyst for respiration.
Finally, the site known as Blood Falls represents the only known place on earth where a form of life utilizing this metabolic process has been discovered. The isolated but absolutely amazing location presents scientists with the ability to study such a unique ecosystem. To the utter delight of researchers, this thankfully occurs without the need to drill down to it.
Mount Erebus Facts
- Our final entry into this article about 4 Geological Wonders of Antarctica is the astounding Mount Erebus.
- Perhaps most notably of all, the incredible Mount Erebus looks like something one might expect to see in a movie scene set on another planet. In addition, the truly fabulous location holds yet another claim to fame. That holds true due to the fact that the incredible Marvel of Nature also ranks as the second highest volcano in its part of the world.
- The breathtaking volcanic mountain also forms part of the Pacific Ring of Fire. This astounding feature itself includes over 160 known active volcanoes. Furthermore, the impressive volcano has been continuously active since 1972. In fact, this remarkable geological feature remains the most active volcano in its particular, highly remote part of the globe.
- Also worthy of note remains the fact that Sir James Clark Ross represented the first non-indigenous human in our time to see this sight. He also discovered the mount in 1841, and during an active eruption. Subsequently, he named both this site, and a companion, named Mount Terror, after his two ships. The name Erebus derives from a region in Greek mythology.
- However, detailed exploration of Mount Erebus did not occur right away. In fact, the first recorded attainment of the summit by humans occurred in 1908. But this was accomplished by a team working together. The first solo reach of the summit only occurred in 1985. Additionally, a robotic probe first explored the interior of the volcano in 1992.
Mount Erebus Physical Description
The eerily breathtaking Mount Erebus today ranks as one of the most truly amazing and phenomenal ultra mountains in the world. For one thing, the volcano itself appears to have been more or less continuously active for a period of roughly 1.3 million years. For another, much like Stromboli, its combination of mild but constant activity permits the existence of long-term observation.
In addition, the summit of this mesmerizing volcano itself also sits at an incredible altitude. This measures at about 12,448 ft (3,794 m) high. Furthermore, and quite amazingly, the apex of the mountain also contains a persistent lava lake. This remains one of only five such lava lakes on the planet known to man.
Further, its unique location has also created some unique geological features in the area. In point of fact, some of these actually exist nowhere else on Earth. Firstly, the flank of Mount Erebus remains covered with hundreds of fumaroles. Quite understandably, these volcanic features constantly emit steam in the freezing conditions.
As a result of the combination of unusual conditions, and incredible action takes place. That’s because the unique combination of super-heated steam and sub-freezing temperatures creates gigantic hollow towers of ice. Even more impressive remains the fact that some of these towers measure as much as roughly 60 ft (18.3 m) in height.
Mount Erebus Location and Modern History
Quite amazingly, the fantastic Mount Erebus formed in what easily qualifies as one of the most unexpected locations on the entire planet. That’s because the wonder of Nature formed on the extremely remote and desolate Ross Island. This island itself is also located quite deep in the region of Antarctica. It’s location further makes it the southernmost active volcano in the world.
Due partly to its remoteness and inaccessibility, its exploration occurred only relatively recently, in modern times. In fact, the first detailed exploration of the region by an official scientific team did not take place until December of 1912. Due to its great scientific importance, two of the camps used have now been recognized for their historic significance.
Not to be outdone, the amazing site also boasts the presence of numerous caves. Most of these remain closely associated with the better known fumaroles. Even in such a location, however, life appears. That’s because several varieties of fungi and bacteria make their home in the caves. Therefore, many scientist have a strong interest in studying these locations.
4 Geological Wonders of Antarctica
We sincerely hope that you have enjoyed this article about 4 Geological Wonders of Antarctica. We further hope that what you learned here has served to whet your appetite to know more about this remote, but fascinating , region our world. Like every corner of the globe, it holds its own beauty. But, it remains up to each of us to do all that we can to preserve and maintain it s natural beauty for our posterity.