Travel - The Dry Valleys

 

The Dry Valleys


The Dry Valleys are from north to south Victoria, Wright and Taylor, and they are unusual in as much as no rain has fallen there for at least two million years. They have no ice or snow either because the air is too dry for any to exist (ice-free spaces in the Antarctic are called oases). They are enormous, desolate places covering around 3000 sq. km (1170 sq. mi.) and were first happened upon by Robert Scott in December 1903. He wrote '...we have seen no living thing, not even a moss or a lichen...it certainly is the valley of the dead; even the great glacier that once pushed through it has withered away'.

Despite their appearance, however, the valleys support some of the most unusual life-forms on the planet. In 1978 American biologists discovered algae, fungi and bacteria growing inside the rocks of the Dry Valleys. These endolithic life-forms grow in air pockets within porous rocks and feed off light, carbon dioxide and moisture that penetrate the rock. The bizarre sculptured rock forms that abound accentuate the otherworldliness of the landscape, and these are called ventifacts, shaped by the ever-present wind that buffs the windward sides to a highly polished gleam. (Scientists believe that the Dry Valleys are the nearest earthly equivalent to the landscape of Mars, and NASA did much research there before launching the Viking mission to Mars.)