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Daily Archives: 29. January 2015 − News & Stories


Dry Val­leys: Tay­lor Val­ley

No, we have not just slept through the 28th. It did not exist. The date line.

The wea­ther just can’t get bet­ter than it is today. That is the oppor­tu­ni­ty for our longst heli­co­p­ter ope­ra­ti­on, the flight into the Dry Val­leys, name­ly Tay­lor Val­ley. The Orte­li­us is in New Har­bour, on the wes­tern side of McMur­do Sound, pushing its bow firm­ly against the edge of mile of fast ice sepa­ra­ting us from the real coast. Ahead of us we have got the Tran­s­ant­arc­tic Moun­tains, this immense moun­tain chain with count­less wild peaks stret­ching hund­reds and hund­reds of miles from Cape Ada­re to well bey­ond 80 degrees south. And in the midd­le of it, the­se weird val­leys which are too dry even for the gla­ciers.

It is a lot of work today for the pilots to fly almost 100 peop­le from Orte­li­us to Cana­da Gla­cier in Tay­lor Val­ley. By the way, the last visi­tors befo­re us, apart from sci­en­tists, will also have come from Orte­li­us, in Febru­a­ry 2013. It is, gene­ral­ly spea­king, not an over­crow­ded place.

Canada Glacier, Taylor Valley

As ever­ything here, visits to the Dry Val­leys are strict­ly regu­la­ted. The­re is only one small visi­tor zone, ever­ything else is gene­ral­ly off limits. The bot­tom of the lar­ge val­ley is com­ple­te­ly cove­r­ed with anci­ent morai­nes, a huge, colour­ful open air muse­um of the regio­nal geo­lo­gy, a wide desert. A litt­le meltwa­ter stream is run­ning from the gla­cier to Lake Fry­xell, which is of cour­se fro­zen. You won’t find any traces of life here, you would have to have a micro­scope to dis­co­ver anything ali­ve, with big­gest chan­ces for dis­co­ve­ries in the streams or lakes. Don’t expect trout or sal­mon, though, but har­dy micro­bes. But even some seals have made it up here ages ago, more than 10 km away from the coast, just to find out that life in the Dry Val­leys is no good for a seal. The con­di­ti­on their sad remains are in are silent wit­nes­ses to the raging sand­s­torms that are fre­quent in this hos­ti­le place.

Apart from seal mum­mies and gla­ciers, the moon must be qui­te simi­lar, I guess.

Penguins and Orcas, McMurdo Sound

As a con­trast, the­re is ple­nty of wild­life at the ice edge, whe­re others are crui­sing with zodiacs, the day is long and lea­ves time for more than the flight into Tay­lor Val­ley. Several pods of Orca are tra­vel­ling in the chan­nels bet­ween the big ice floes, slight­ly ner­vous­ly wat­ched by Ade­lie pen­gu­ins, who are stan­ding every here and the­re in small groups. The zodiacs are some­ti­mes in the focus of peace­ful atten­ti­on of the­se migh­ty pre­d­a­tors. A litt­le walk on one of the ice floes, which mea­su­re metres in thic­kness and are hard as con­cre­te, with Mount Ere­bus pro­vi­ding a more than appro­pria­te back­ground, rounds the day off.

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