Dry Valleys

The dry valleys of Antarctica are among the continent's most curious features, and they are especially interesting for geologists and microbiologists. Found in the Trans-Antarctic Range, which is the continent's premier mountain range, the dry valleys are characterized by very dry conditions. Except for a few steep rocks that hold some frozen moisture, the Antarctic dry valleys are completely devoid of ice. This is in sharp contrast to the rest of the continent, which is covered in snow and ice. The mountainous area that corresponds to the dry valleys of Antarctica is a place where evaporation and sublimation outdo the annual amount of snowfall. As such, all of the ice disappears, and nothing but dry and barren land is left behind.

The Antarctic dry valleys beckon researches who are looking to study one of the most delicate and simple ecosystems on the planet, and these researches also come to observe the unique processes and geological formations that occur in these valleys. Some of the principal dry valleys, or ice-free valleys, that can be found in Antarctica are the Taylor, Victoria, and Barwick valleys. Further south towards the McMurdo Sound, other smaller Antarctic dry valleys can be found. The dry valleys that are found in the McMurdo Sound area are appropriately labeled the McMurdo Dry Valleys. You might be surprised to know that the dry valleys of Antarctica aren't always completely dry. The McMurdo Dry Valleys, for example, are home to Lake Vida and the Onyx River. The Onyx River is the longest river in Antarctica, while Lake Vida is one of the largest lakes in the McMurdo Dry Valley region.

As is the case with Lake Vida, Lake Vanda, which is another lake that can be found in the Antarctic dry valleys, is almost always covered with ice. Salt-saturated, liquid water can be found below the surface of the ice on these lakes, and some very mysterious biology is also present in the liquefied levels. Some researches actually scuba dive in the lakes of the Antarctic dry valleys, and on some occasions, these divers have found mummified bodies of seals. This is particularly interesting, as these seals somehow wandered hundreds of miles from the sea.

The dry valleys of Antarctica have many common characteristics, though that doesn't mean that they aren't also unique. While some of the dry valleys here have glaciers at their heads, others connect to dry upper reaches or the occasional small alpine glacier. The bulk of the Antarctic dry valleys don't reach the sea, due to the fact that they are blocked by the Wilson Glacier. Only Taylor Valley exits into the sea ice that can be found at McMurdo Sound. This sea ice is connected to the larger Ross Ice Shelf, which is the largest of its kind. Like the dry valleys, the ice shelves in Antarctica are of increasing interest to tourists who are interested in seeing some of the continent's most interesting natural features.

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