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In Antarctica, Scientists Are Lured to a Frozen Desert, AMAZING


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In Antarctica, Scientists Are Lured to a Frozen Desert, AMAZING

Post by Lobo on Tue 30 May 2017, 3:58 pm

In Antarctica, Scientists Are Lured to a Frozen Desert


Jonathan Corum / The New York Times

Photographs and Text by JONATHAN CORUM
May 29, 2017

Welcome to the McMurdo Dry Valleys, the largest ice-free region in Antarctica and one of the driest places on the planet. Most of the continent is covered in thick ice, but this place is a striking exception. Sheltering mountains and dry winds from the continent preserve a frigid desert that defies all expectations.
It is not barren: Scientists have spent decades studying the extreme environment and the microscopic life that survives there. The Dry Valleys may well be our closest equivalent to a Martian landscape.
Four journalists from The New York Times visited the Dry Valleys in December — summer in the Southern Hemisphere. We also made virtual-reality film based on that flight, along with three other films about the changing continent. Here’s some of what we learned.

A Landscape Scoured by Savage Winds

Jonathan Corum / The New York Times

Ice from the East Antarctic ice sheet cascades into the Upper Wright Valley, forming a smooth glacier three miles wide and five miles long. The surrounding mountains are high enough to keep the rest of the valley ice-free.
Wind shapes the valley in different ways. Windblown grit carves exposed rocks on the valley rim into curved and hollowed forms.
And dry winds from East Antarctica pour down the glacier and through the length of the valley, stripping away moisture and any snow that might fall.

Jonathan Corum / The New York Times

Little water means little erosion. Footprints in parts of this valley can last longer than a human lifetime. In some places, there are tire tracks left by scientists in the 1970s.

A Planetary History Exposed

Jonathan Corum / The New York Times

The walls of the Upper Wright Valley are banded with light and dark rock — far more significant than they might seem.
The pale bands are ancient Antarctic bedrock. But the dark bands appeared during the breakup of Gondwana, a supercontinent that formed around 600 million years and split apart around 180 million years ago.
The breakup yielded the continents we know today as South America, Africa, Antarctica and Australia, among others. Similar rock formations on other continents in the Southern Hemisphere helped strengthen early theories of continental drift.

Once a Bog, Now Bone-Dry

Friis Hills

Jonathan Corum / The New York Times

The Friis Hills are the remnants of an ancient landscape.
Twenty million years ago, this land was wet bog, buzzing with insects and dotted with Southern beech trees. A shift in climate covered the area with glaciers, and water hasn’t flowed here in 14 million years.
The lack of moisture has helped preserve a record of the more temperate past, and researchers digging in the dry ground have found freeze-dried twigs and moss just below the surface.

A Pond and Lake That Hint at Life on Other Planets

Don Juan Pond

Jonathan Corum / The New York Times

Nestled in the Wright Valley is a pond of ankle-deep water, still liquid despite the freezing temperatures. Don Juan Pond is thought to be the saltiest body of water in the world, many times saltier than the Dead Sea.
Scientists have found microbes around the pond, but the water itself may not support life. The last pools of liquid water on a dying Mars might have once looked something like this.

Lake Vanda

Jonathan Corum / The New York Times

Lake Vanda is an ice-covered lake fed by the Onyx River, the longest surface river in Antarctica, which only flows in summer. The lake holds an isolated ecosystem of microbial mats and spires. Rovers on Mars are searching for traces of similar microbial structures in ancient Martian lake beds.

    Current date/time is Thu 21 Jun 2018, 10:47 pm