McMurdo Dry Valleys Facts
- To the surprise of many, the region known as the McMurdo Dry Valleys easily ranks as one of the most extreme deserts known to man. This fact astounds many who learn of it, simply because most people automatically associate deserts with other attributes.
- This remains especially remarkable given one particular, extraordinary fact. That holds true because the incredible feature formed in a section of the continent now known as Antarctica. Nature, it seems, never tires of astounding us mere humans!
- However, even in this inhospitable environment, life found ways to adapt. It’s not likely the type of life most of you might expect to find. That’s because certain types of photosynthetic bacteria inhabit the comparatively damp interiors of rocks in the area.
- The wonders of evolution to be found here do not end there. That holds true due to the fact that some incredible bacteria live here. More precisely, certain of these with metabolisms based entirely on sulfur and iron appear to thrive under a local glacier.
- McMurdo Dry Valleys includes geological features to amaze the explorer. These include more than a dozen separate valleys and eleven recognized glaciers. Due to a high saline content, liquid water flows in parts of the area, including streams and small lakes!
McMurdo Dry Valleys Geology
Intriguingly, the stunning McMurdo Dry Valleys formed in conjunction with a much larger formation. That’s what the majority of professional geologists call the Beacon Supergroup. This structure formed during a period ranging from 400 – 250 million years ago.
Yet the wonders continue. The unparalled 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.
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 the remarkable McMurdo Dry Valleys, the tills deposited from extremely cold-based ice. Similar deposits in other regions, however, formed as primarily moist-based. Due to these factors, large amounts of loose gravel also dot the landscape of the region.
McMurdo Dry Valleys Location and Climate
To the continual astonishment of many, the McMurdo Dry Valleys formed in a remote corner of the globe. That consists of 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 site known as McMurdo Sound. The austerely beautiful region additionally 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 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 also occurs due to the relatively great height of the surrounding mountains.
These features, in themselves awesome, typically 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, present within the McMurdo Dry Valleys, often achieve speeds of as much as 200 mph (320 kph). These powerful natural winds, therefore, continually serve to rapidly evaporate any recently deposited ice or snow.