The End of Cold: McMurdo Dry Valleys Unique Environment Threatened

Alex Wierbinski's picture

By Alex Wierbinski - Posted on 09 October 2018


The End of Cold
McMurdo Dry Valleys Unique Environment Threatened-Changing


View of McMurdo
In the McMurdo Dry Valley environment, by J Levy from Portland State.
Credit for Image by Joseph Levy of Portland State University.

Rapid, widespread changes may be coming to Antarctica's Dry Valleys, study finds,
Portland State University, October 9, 2018.


First, an introduction to a unique environment

McMurdo Dry Valleys
One of the most extreme places on Earth


"Dry Valleys are so named because of their extremely low humidity and their lack of snow or ice of the world's most extreme deserts...the largest ice-free region in Antarctica...unique conditions in the Dry Valleys are caused, in part, by katabatic winds; these occur when cold, dense air is pulled downhill by the force of gravity. The winds can reach speeds of 320 kilometres per hour (200 mph), heating as they descend, and evaporating all water, ice and snow."

"Scientists consider the Dry Valleys perhaps the closest of any terrestrial environment to the planet Mars, and thus an important source of insights into possible extraterrestrial life."

"...field expedition in 2013 to University test a drill designed for sampling on Mars in the permafrost of the driest parts of the valleys...They found no living organisms in the permafrost, the first location on the planet visited by humans with no active microbial life."



"...the McMurdo Dry Valleys, has undergone changes over the past decade and the recent discovery of thawing permafrost, thinning glaciers and melting ground ice by a Portland State University-led research team are signs that rapid and widespread change could be on the horizon."

"...used an airborne laser scanner, or lidar, to measure the surface elevations of glaciers, soils and ice-covered lakes in Antarctica's largest exposed land region. The team then compared the elevations to similar measurements made in 2001 by a different project."

"Millions of cubic meters of buried ice have melted in the last decade..."

"It's unprecedented change over the historic period of Antarctica and perhaps since the end of the last ice age. If it keeps up, it could remove the last ice deposits from some valleys in about five hundred years.”

The unique environment will be gone long before then...

Human-Hammer Time
"The valleys have been considered almost timeless, yet here we see some changes that would be considered rapid even in more temperate climates."

Preview of the Future
”The melting mirrors the kind of melting scientists expect to see in the coming decades if climate warming catches up with the more isolated corners of Antarctica.”

Major Reorganization
"...the Dry Valleys may be on the threshold of a major reorganization."





Antarctic Map
Canada/British Antarctic Survey detailed map of Antarctica
Canada's BAS PDF Antarctic Map



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