Antarctica’s Dry Valleys
Not all the Southern
Continent is frozen. It has areas like other deserts in the
world: barren, dry and lifeless.
Antarctica is known for being an ice-bound continent covered with glaciers and
sheets of ice four kilometers deep. Its only long-term inhabitants are seabirds,
seals, whales and a particular brand of research scientist with a penchant for
new discoveries in extreme environments. However, an analysis of
satellite imagery around the South Pole revealed that there are some areas
Wright Valley, for example, that are entirely free of ice and have rivers
flowing through them.
A previous Picture of the Day article about the giant Wilkes Land crater
suggested that the continent has been catastrophically altered by electrical
events and not by the slow action of glaciers and Ice Age effects alone. The
crater could have been created in similar fashion to Manicouagan or Popigai
before Antarctica froze at the beginning of the last ice age.
Some observations seem to show that the glacial debris is younger in appearance
than the time estimates demand, and some of the
charred forests that lie
buried under the ice burned up so quickly that they are carbonized in place.
They look as if a lightning bolt or some other electric discharge hit them
suddenly. The electrical forces that were unleashed may have actually caused the
continent to freeze, the forests to burn and the animals to die and become
fossilized in a short period of time.
Antarctica not only possesses one of the largest craters on Earth, it also has
some of the largest stone monoliths found on any continent.
Murray Monolith is much like the dolerite structure in Tasmania called
Cradle Mountain. Another is
horseshoe-shaped like the
Massif des Bauges in France. Stone blocks such as Mount Conner in Australia
Table Mountain just outside of Cape Town, South Africa resemble those in
Antarctica, as well.
One interesting aspect to the
Wright Valley is that dolerites scattered throughout the area look
different than simple weathering can explain. Dolerite is basalt lava that
is hard enough to resist the erosion, which is how standard geological theories
explain the stone monoliths. Underlying lava rocks are harder than the
surrounding sedimentary deposits so plutons, or lava plugs, are left behind
after wind and rain dissolves the softer material.
Because dolerite tends to erode by freeze-thaw fracturing,
pinnacles caused by weathering in the vertical cracks are often found on top
of basalt and granite plutons. The formations on top of the hilltops in Wright
Valley defy that convention as the image at the top of the page demonstrates.
They have a
half-melted and drilled appearance, with sharp-edged holes and fluted wings
of stone flowing down that are distinctive to Antarctica but have
characteristics similar to those on Ben Bulben in Ireland or on the summit of
Angel Falls in Argentina.
In every environment where isolated mountains of rock are located, anomalous
“erosion” patterns are also found. The relationship between the two is unlikely
to be random since it occurs in disparate locales and temperature ranges. Rather
than being anomalies, these patterns should be considered signs that a single
event spawned significant changes at a variety of scales in rock strata all over
By Stephen Smith
Please visit our new "Thunderblog" page
Through the initiative of managing
editor Dave Smith, we’ve begun the launch of a new
presentations of fact and opinion, with emphasis on
and the explanatory power of the Electric Universe."
new: online video page
The Electric Sky and The Electric Universe