2017-2018 Science Planning Summaries
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2017-2018 USAP Field Season
Project Detail

Project Title

Formation and characteristics of brine-rich water in the Dry Valleys, Antarctica

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Event Number:

Program Manager:
Dr. Douglas Kowalewski

ASC POC/Implementer:
Judy Shiple / Meghan Walker

Principal Investigator

Dr. Ronald Sletten

University of Washington
Department of Earth and Space Sciences
Seattle, Washington

Project Web Site:


Supporting Stations: McMurdo Station
Research Locations: McMurdo Dry Valleys


The hyperarid, frigid Dry Valleys are a unique cold desert environment and one of the best environmental analogs for Martian soils. Similar to hot deserts, a hallmark of this environment is salt accumulation; however, actual processes controlling the ionic redistribution in soils and waters are poorly constrained. To investigate the formation and characteristics of near-surface liquid water in the Dry Valleys, the team will conduct a combination of field research on shallow groundwater features and theoretical modeling of brine and vapor transport in permafrost soils. The field work component of this science event will investigate the chemical, mineralogical, and isotopic composition of widespread shallow groundwater and soils associated with these features in the Dry Valleys.

Field Season Overview

A six-participant field team will camp for five weeks in the Dry Valleys to collect soil, rock, permafrost, and water samples from water features, including slope streaks. They will camp in the Upper Wright Valley near Don Juan Pond and in the Lower Wright Valley. The team will spend three weeks at the Upper Wright Valley camp location, sampling from the Labyrinth to Lake Vanda. Most of this sampling will be done on foot. A subset of the team will collect samples from the talus slopes coming down from the Dias and Asgard Ranges on both sides of Don Juan Pond. The team will install a camera above Don Juan Pond for the duration of the field effort. These activities will require helicopter support to move participants and sampling equipment up the slope and the assistance of one Field Safety & Training staff member for descent. Team members will make three day trips by helicopter while based in the Upper Wright Valley. The team will then spend two weeks at the Lower Wright Valley camp, collecting samples near the camp site and from Lake Brownsworth to Lake Vanda by foot. Helicopter support will be required in order to access active slope streaks. The team will take up to four helicopter day trips to the Taylor Valley and other potential locations including Victoria Valley, Beacon Valley, and New Harbor.

Deploying Team Members

  • Lu Liu
  • Douglas Ming
  • Ronald Sletten (PI)
  • Jonathan Toner