What Are They Doing?

A small team of earth scientists and engineers used a specialized drill to reach buried ice deposits in Beacon Valley – a part of the Dry Valleys region of Antarctica. Buried ice deposits represent a new and potentially far-reaching archive of Earth’s atmosphere and climate. The drill operations retrieved ice cores, which enabled the research team to gain access to a record of atmospheric and climatic change extending back for many millions of years. The ice that was drilled was estimated to be over several million years in age, making it by far the oldest ice yet known on this planet.

Simultaneously, the team worked in the Dry Valleys to seek a better understanding of surface processes above buried ice on Earth, for insight into Martian history and the potential for life on Mars. The cold-polar desert of the Dry Valleys is one of the most Mars-like climatic environments and landscapes on Earth.

Additionally, the team continued to investigate the timing of tundra extinction in Antarctica. Collaborating with colleagues from North Dakota State University, the team examined ancient lake beds outside of Beacon Valley that contain freeze-dried remnants of mosses, beetles, and diatoms, all of which underwent rapid extinction around 13.9 million years ago. For the past 13.9 million years, climate conditions in the Dry Valleys have been too cold for even the hardiest of tundra plants and animals; fortunately, however, the conditions have been ideal for long-term preservation of multi-million year old, buried ice.

Dr. Marchant explains the significance of sampling in Beacon Valley in this video.

Where Are They?

The McMurdo Dry Valleys are located on the western coast of McMurdo Sound (77°00'S 162°52'E) and form the largest relatively ice-free area (approximately 4800 square kilometers) on the Antarctic continent. The perennially ice-covered lakes, frozen alpine glaciers, and extensive areas of exposed soil and permafrost within the McMurdo Dry Valleys are subject to low temperatures, limited snowfall, and salt accumulation. In the coldest and driest part of this region, where the team set up camp, liquid water is basically non-existent and the landscape has remained frozen in time for millions of years. Walking through Beacon Valley today is akin to walking back in time; the 10+ million-year-old landscape gives the researchers a glimpse of what the world was like millions of years before the first recorded events in human history.

Latest Journals

When I applied to the PolarTREC program, I was asked where I would prefer to go given the options of the Arctic, Antarctica, or either. I checked the Antarctica box only, despite the fact that I may have decreased my chances of being selected. Antarctica was my preference for many reasons. As a…
The team caught the December 17, 2008 flight to Christchurch at 0530. Approximately eight long hours later we arrived in Christchurch, claimed our luggage, and turned in our Extreme Cold Weather Gear. I stayed one night in Christchurch and left for Los Angeles on December 18, 2008.  I managed to…
The 2008 Antarctic drilling season is over for Dr. Marchant's team. The team spent a total of 35 days in Mullins and Beacon Valley camps, and retrieved 72 m of core from 5 drilling sites. Sampling locations and cores retrieved. Base map provided by J Walker RPSC 29 November 2006. Dave Marchant…
The entire team is back in McMurdo, but there is still more work to be done. All of the camp equipment has to be inventoried, cleaned, separated, and returned to the Berg Field Center (BFC). Team members carefully organized and stored the equipment upon arrival in Mac Town so that the sorting,…
Dry Valleys, Antarctica
Project Funded Title
Dating and Paleoenvironmental Studies on Ancient Ice in the Dry Valleys
Related Expeditions

Ancient Buried Ice in Antarctica Resources


Beacon Valley is recognized by scientists as one of the most Mars-like environments on Earth. This lesson plan was created so that students could have the opportunity to examine the same landforms that scientists use to study the processes that operate in both of these extreme environments. There are two parts to this lesson. Teachers may choose to

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Middle School and Up
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The Dry Valleys region in Antarctica is known as the coldest, windiest, driest place on Earth. Beacon Valley is famous for its katabatic winds which can routinely knock fit adults and PolarTREC teachers to the ground. This lesson was created by PolarTREC teacher Jacquelyn Hams who experienced the cold and the full force of the winds in 2008

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High school and Up