The Driest Place On Earth, As Measured By Precipitation, Is Located In?
Thoughts of Antarctica call to mind glaciers, massive snow drifts, and the kind of snow storms that last for weeks and drive explorers mad. Yet among all that snow, you’ll find the absolute driest place on Earth, as measured by precipitation.
The place, known as the McMurdo Dry Valleys, is a wasteland that could easily be confused for an extraterrestrial landscape. The ground is rocky, frozen, and dry. The humidity is extremely low. Nearby mountain ranges are high enough to prevent the flow of ice from the East Antarctic ice sheet from reaching the Ross Sea, and on top of it all, an atmospheric phenomenon called “katabatic winds” (occurring when cold, dense air is pulled downhill by the force of gravity) that rip across the landscape, reaching speeds of 200 miles per hour (320 kilometers per hour), heating as they descend, and evaporating all water, ice, and snow.
As if that alone weren’t enough to secure the crown for the McMurdo Dry Valleys as perhaps the most hellishly cold and dry place on Earth, it’s estimated that precipitation hasn’t fallen on the region for around two million years—a span of time that makes even the driest of dry spells elsewhere on Earth seem like the blink of an eye time-wise.
Image courtesy of ASTER/Originalwana/NASA.