"Spooky" Valleys


Valley of the Dead

In 1903, Robert Falcon Scott and his team discovered the Dry Valleys as part of a British Antarctic Expedition. Scott found the valleys to be quite desolate. "We have seen no living thing," he wrote, "not even a moss or lichen…it certainly is the valley of the dead; even the great glacier that once pushed through it has withered away."

A mat of algae centimeters, some 10 centimeters thick, grows inside a cryoconite hole on top of Canada Glacier. Cryoconite holes are filled with liquid water and capped by a cover of ice. They can be over a foot deep.

Now, 100 years later, we know that the valleys are not dead. They do in fact contain some moss and lichen. Algae can be found pretty much wherever there is a source of liquid water - in the streams, in the lakes, in places where snow drifts have melted, and on top of glaciers in cryoconite holes.

The soils contain nematodes, which are very primitive animals that look like unsegmented worms. You can even find entire microbial ecosystems growing inside of translucent rocks that allow some light penetration.

The rocks protect the organisms from winds and from Antarctica's intense ultraviolet radiation. However, the largest animal to live year round in the Dry Valleys is a six-legged wingless fly known as a Collombola or springtail. Its size - one to two millimeters in length!


Springtails as seen under a magnifying glass
Photo by Karen Cozzetto

Black and orange
stream algae

Photo by Jenny Baeseman

Jen looks for life by
Don Juan Pond

Photo by Karen Cozzetto


Next >>