Mummified seals and penguins: Carcasses of seals and penguins have been found in the Dry Valleys over 30 miles away from the sea. This is not the result of a sea level drop, but simply because the seals and penguins have “lost their way.” Scientists say that when seals travel, some follow cracks in sea ice that lead them far from open water. When winter comes and they are far from open water, they become extremely stressed, perhaps causing their navigational systems to deteriorate. At this point, seals either try to return overland before winter sets in or share a breathing hole in the ice created by another seal. Often the seals choose the former and cannot find their way back, ending up in the Dry Valleys and other areas. The seals and penguins appear to be in pretty good shape but this can be very misleading because some are hundreds of years old. The very dry, cold weather makes it hard for any organic material to break down (this is also why prevention is the best remedy for pollution in the Dry Valleys).
Venefacts: A venefact is a rock that has been sculpted by the wind. Wind speeds get so high in Antarctica (especially in the winter) that large sediment particles become entrained and effectively sandblast a regular piece of granite or other rock into an abstract sculpture. The largest and most stunning of these venefacts can be found on high ridges where the wind whips through notches.
One of the many venefacts on a high ridge. We found some that were 5 or 6 times as large as this one.
Blood Falls: You can only stumble across this one if you’re not looking very closely. Blood Falls is an outflow of subglacial water at the terminus of the Taylor Glacier in the Taylor Valley. The researchers studying this landform believe that a large quantity of iron-rich seawater became trapped in the glacier, part of which is released and oxidized each year. This creates a striking frozen waterfall that looks like the glacier is bleeding.
Blood Falls emerging from the Taylor Glacier. Lake Bonney is in the foreground. The glacier face (not including the brown sediment) is about 50 feet high.