Some of our stream sites are gauged only once a season because of their unique location. This last week we had the chance to go to one of the more remote and less visited valleys of the region: Miers Valley. As we headed south from our field camp our helo pilot informed us that we were the first American group he’d heard of to visit Miers this year (there’s a small isolated Kiwi camp of 4 researchers at the head of the valley).
We broke up into two teams for our visit. The first was dropped off at the west end of lake where the major stream system enters. They were to measure the amount of water going into the lake, while I was dropped off at the other end of the lake to measure how much water was leaving.
Miers is a much smaller valley than Taylor (where I live); roughly 1/3 the size. Being further south it has a phenomenal view of the Royal Society Mountain Range which acts as a protective barrier to keep the East Antarctic Ice Sheet at bay. The visual feature defining Miers are the two glaciers that form a crescent at the beginning of the valley. These glaciers are actually flowing in a curved rather than straight direction.
As our short three hours in Miers came to a close, I noticed the remnants of an old field camp site. Cairns marked a historic science site and footprints ringed a flattened patch of disturbed gravel where a tent used to be.
Since we’ve been hiking a lot this season to conserve helo hours, we also had the chance to get an extra set of measurements and explore a bit more of a valley I described a few posts back: Garwood Valley. The major feature of Garwood is a subterranean river that cuts through the bottom of a glacier and winds under the Earth to emerge at odd intervals down valley. Our first visit to the valley was exploratory in every sense of the word – we were dropped off at an arbitrary location, had vague GPS coordinates of where the valley was measured years before, and had nothing but our feet and a profound lack of a direction to guide us.
On our second time through we were prepared with recent GPS locations and my faltering memory to ensure that we were measuring the exact same spots as earlier in the season (replication is the key to data collection). As I held the GPS upside-down and wandered along the length of the river, I came across a section that I hadn’t seen previously: the spot where the river dives down into the Earth and becomes subterranean for the first time. It was epic.
The river cut jagged walls in the dirt leaving exposed boulders that fell apart as I stood there. It descended 30 feet straight down and the waterfall’s mist created huge 6 to 10 foot icicles that lined the cavern’s entrance. It was the single most impressive river site I’ve seen down here.
My final photo below wasn’t taken in either Miers or Garwood Valley, but rather was shot when I was out doing some deconstruction near Taylor Glacier this weekend. As my teammate and I were disassembling an old stream gauge he noticed a small face peering out of the moraine. An old seal mummy was being buried underneath the accumulating boulders and gravel that collect at the end of Taylor Glacier. Only the jaws remained exposed. Even as I took the picture sand and rubble were coming down the edge of the moraine making it clear that this would be the the last time that the several hundred year old corpse would be seen.