Why Do Antarctica’s Blood Falls Bleed Red Water?

Posted: Apr 25 2017, 2:47pm CDT | by , Updated: Apr 25 2017, 2:53pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
Why Do Antarctica’s Blood Falls Bleed Red Water?
Blood Falls in Antarctica. Credit: United States Antarctic Program

Researhers may have solved a longstanding mystery about Antarctica's unusual feature

Among the most surprising features in the icy region of Antarctica is the Blood Falls which flows from the toe of Taylor Glacier and discharges extremely bright red water.

The Blood Falls were discovered in 1911 by an Australian geologist Griffith Taylor. Initially, researchers thought that red algae gave this mysterious liquid outflow its unique bloody color. But later it was proven to be due to iron oxides. Many glaciers release icy waters but only few are salty and even few are red.

To learn more about this seemingly supernatural phenomenon, a combined team of researchers from multiple institutes made a trip to the Taylor Valley in McMurdo Dry Valleys, East Antarctica and used a radar system called radio-echo sounding around the glacier. The system consists of two antennas: one transmits pulses and other receives signals. Researchers concluded that mysterious waterfall is likely caused by a large source of salt water that may have been trapped under Taylor Glacier for at least one million year.

“The salts in the brine made this discovery possible by amplifying contrast with the fresh glacier ice.” Lead researcher Jessica Badgeley from Colorado College said.

The brine or salt water actually combines with iron below the glacier surface and spills red colored water. The water is extremely salty, about three times as salty as the ocean and won’t freeze even in temperatures dipping well below the freshwater freezing point.

Researchers have also found the red water is oozing from an extremely cold glacier. Cold glaciers do not usually release water but this is not the case with Taylor Glacier.

“While it sounds counterintuitive, water releases heat as it freezes, and that heat warms the surrounding colder ice," said co-author Erin Pettit from University of Alaska Fairbanks “The heat and the lower freezing temperature of salty water make liquid movement possible. "Taylor Glacier is now the coldest known glacier to have persistently flowing water.”

Previous researches have shown that the water of Blood Falls contains no oxygen and possibly hosts extreme microbial life.

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