Wright Valley

This week we went to Wright Valley, which is north of Taylor Valley and home of the longest river in Antarctica, the Onyx. For the first time this season, we saw streamflow!

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Flowing about 40 kilometers from beginning to end, the Onyx has the longest streamflow record of any stream on the continent, and begins in the late 1960’s. The Onyx is also unique in that there are two gauges; one at the headwaters and one at the Lake Vanda outlet. This is useful because we know how much water is lost due to evaporation as well as the chemical changes that take place along the distance of the stream. Interestingly, the journey from the Lower Wright Glacier at the headwaters to Lake Vanda is moving away from the ocean, or up the valley.

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Since this stream record is so long, it is often used as a reference for other Dry Valley streams and is handy for making comparisons among flow seasons. However, in order to keep this record the best it can be, it requires upkeep once in a while just like all the other streams. On this particular trip, we not only prepared the gauge for flow, but also gave parts of the gauge itself some much needed maintenance. 

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The New Zealand Antarctic Program initiated monitoring of Onyx steamflow, and their “stream team” called themselves the “Asgard Rangers”, adopting the symbol of the Viking helmet and a reputation for fierce science. So why the Asgard Rangers? Well, the mountain range that separates the Taylor Valley and the Wright Valley is called the Asgard Range, and was named after the mythical home of the Norse gods. Similarly, the mountain range to the north of Wright Valley is the Olympus Range, which was named after the home of the Greek gods.

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Along with the original Asgard Rangers were also the “Vanda Vandals” which were a limnology group that studied Lake Vanda, and an enigmatic group called the Mammoth Hunters (we dare not speculate what they studied). Relics from these proud groups can still be seen in the Lower Wright hut near our upper stream gauge on the Onyx, as the original Asgard Ranger hut was taken out because of the rising waters of Lake Vanda. 

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