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Immediate report on the Victoria University of Wellington Antarctic Expedition 1959-60: VUWAE 3


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The Victoria University of Wellington Antarctic Expedition was mounted to complete the detailed investigations of the extensive ice-free area of Victoria Land between the Taylor and Mackay Glaciers, begun by members of the University in 1958.

The Wright-Victoria 'dry-valley' area of South Victoria Land, lying between latitudes 77°S. and 77°45′S. and longitudes 160°E. and 163°E., is the only substantial ice-free area in New Zealand's Ross Dependency. Extending over about 2500 square miles, it is probably the largest area of exposed rock in Antarctica. (Bunger's Oasis, near Mirny - another ice-free area, which has been studied by Russian scientists - is much smaller and the variety of rocks not as great). For this reason, the Wright-Victoria area was chosen by the University as a key region for Antarctic research.

The block is bounded to the south by the Ferrar and Taylor Glaciers; to the west by the inland ice, at an altitude of approximately 8000 feet; to the north by the Mackay, Miller and Debenham Glaciers; and to the cast by the Wilson Piedmont Glacier, which averages about 12 miles in width and extends 50 miles from north to south along the western edge of McNurdo Sound. The area consists of continental rocks whose maximum altitude increases from about 5000 feet in the cast to about 8000 feet near the edge of the inland ice. It is transected by two major east-west valley systems: the Wright Valley in the south and the Victoria Valley system to the north.

Although the country surrounding the block to the north, east and south was explored and mapped during the expeditions of Scott and Shackleton in the early part of the century, the inland area containing the bulk of the dry-valley system was unknown. Such remained the case until 1947, when the United States Navy conducted aerial reconnaissance flights which included the southern part of the area. Further flights by the U.S.N. and the Trans-Antarctic Expedition in the summers of 1956-57 and 1957-58 provided the first systematic photographic coverage.

In the summer of 1957-58, the N.Z. T.A.E. Northern Party, while engaged in a broad topographical and geological survey, travelled by dog teams round this 2500 square mile block, but were unable to enter it. In the same summer the first recorded entry was made, by a party who spent ton days in the Victoria Dry Valley. The party consisted of R.W. Balham (T.A.E.), leader; and R.E. Barwick (then a lecturer in Zoology at the University). A. Packard, and P.N. Webb (a Geology student at the University) who were members of the Sumner Support Party of the T.A.E. As all members of this party except A. Packard were, or had been, students of Victoria, it was decided to name the Valley the University. This has since proved to be most appropriate, for from that time all exploration carried out in the area has been done by this University.

In the summer of 1958-59, a four-man expedition from Victoria let by Dr. C.B. Bull, with deputy leader R.E. Barwick and geologists P.N. Webb and B.C. McKelvey, spent two months in the Wright Valley, immediately south of the Victoria Valley. Detailed geological, topographical, biological and geophysical observations were made, and the expedition achieved remarkable success.

The assignment of the last V.U.W. Antarctic Expedition was to enter the northern half of this rugged and largely mountainous country, and so continue and extend the work of the two previous expeditions. An area exceeding 1000 square miles of ice-free country was covered; and all the expedition's objectives were achieved.

Financial aid for the expedition came from several sources, The Council of V.U.W. made available £500; the Research Grants Committee of the University of New Zealand £200; and the Ross page 3 Dependency Research Committee £500, with the stipulation that this grant be expended in stores, clothing and equipment, non-consumable items remaining the property of the Antarctic Division, Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. The J.R. McKenzie Trust, granted a sum of £200 towards the cost of a scientific instrument, and this money made it possible to buy a surveying theodolite costing some £315. Added to this direct financial support, the expedition received, through the generosity of various business houses throughout the country, gifts of stores, equipment and clothing or reductions from the normal cost of goods, amounting to a further £400. The five members used some personal clothing, field equipment and cameras to a value of about £300. Scientific equipment was loaned by the Meteorological Office, the Antarctic Division of D.S.I.R., and the University.