Sara Wheeler at More Intelligent Life:
Captain Scott discovered the 34-mile Taylor Glacier on his first expedition, the one that sailed south in 1901. Named after Griffith Taylor, one of Cook’s geologists, the glacier lies at the head of an arid valley created by the advances and retreats of glaciers through the Transantarctic Mountains. These dry valleys, partially free of ice for about 4m years, are dotted with saltwater basins—you can see some of them on the map—and they form one of the most extreme deserts in the world. NASA tested robotic probes there before dispatching them on interplanetary missions. One of the engineers told me, “This is as close to Mars as we can get.”
My crew at Lake Bonney, funded by the National Science Foundation, were melting holes in the 12-foot lid of ice that covered the lake and lowering sediment traps to the bottom. It was complex, fraught and expensive work, and their shifts often extended to 30 hours straight. Down south, it’s hard to keep an ice hole open for three months. The team waged a constant battle against the Big Freeze. Over supper (usually pasta with freeze-dried vegetable sauce), the guys—yup, all guys—talked about the organic carbon sloshing around at the bottom of the lake and the ribboned crystals trapped in the ice cover, and asked each other questions about the microbial life going about its business in the soupy, nitrate-rich water.