The Antarctic Dry Valleys are located to the west of McMurdo Sound in the Ross Sea Region. Covering approximately 5000 km², the Dry Valleys make up the largest ice-free area in Antarctica. This region is made up of a series of valleys with a landscape that is much different from the rest of the continent, and the rest of the planet.
Named for their lack of ice cover, the Dry Valleys are cut off from the flow of ice from the continent’s interior by the Transantarctic Mountains and remain ice free due to the little precipitation the valleys receive. Glaciers and ice-covered lakes can be found throughout the Dry Valleys, but apart from these areas, the region is mostly free of ice and snow cover. Mountain ranges with peaks over 2000 meters frame the valleys and rock, soil, and sand are exposed throughout the region.
The Dry Valleys are the coldest and driest desert on Earth, and represent one of the harshest environments in the world. The average annual air temperature in the Dry Valleys is -20 °C, with an average summer temperature near 0 °C.In the winter, the temperature can drop below -50 °C. The annual precipitation is less than 100 mm of water equivalent. Winds in the Dry Valleys can rise to more than 180 km/hour.
Despite these harsh environmental conditions, the Dry Valleys are home to many microorganisms, making the area a unique and exciting ecosystem to study.The Dry Valleys have been designated as an Antarctic Specially Managed Area since 2004, meaning that people visiting and working in the Dry Valleys must follow a code of conduct to ensure that their activities have minimal impact on the fragile ecosystem and unique environment.