‘Blood Falls’ mystery in Antarctica baffled us for a century—when you see the photos, it’s easy to see why

August 20, 2017 3:23 pm Last Updated: December 22, 2017 7:04 pm

In 1911, geologist Thomas Grifftih Taylor discovered a striking sight—some blood-red substance was gushing into piles from a snow-white glacier.

(Peter Rejcek)

Taylor was on an expedition to the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica—one of the world’s most extreme deserts.

Here, the geoscientists found a cold-based glacier (which is frozen to the ground below, as opposed to scraping over bedrock), and this mysterious, bloody-residue-spewing glacier was named Taylor Glacier.

(Elizabeth Mockbee)

For about a century, we were puzzled as to the cause of the ‘Bloody Falls.’

The briny water was determined to be red because of high iron oxide—basically rust—and that this red water might have been trapped within the ice about 1 million years ago.

(Kristan Hutchison)
(Peter Rejcek)

More recently, scientists found in 2015 that the source of the Blood Falls goes back 300 feet from the mouth of the waterfall, where there is an iron-rich reservoir within the glacier—but it doesn’t start out red.

(Peter Rejcek)

It’s due to cracks within the ice that this salty, deep-red water pushes out of the ice—and then once the iron-rich water comes in contact with oxygen, it oxidizes (it rusts) and produces this blood-red color.

(Kelly Falkner)

Some might find it strange that there is a pool of liquid water within such a large structure of solid ice. Glaciologist Erin Petitt says that while it sounds counter-intuitive. water does release heat as it freezes—and this heat then warms the surrounding, colder ice.

So in the intense cold inside the glacier, some of this brine freezes, which in turn releases enough heat to keep the rest of the brine liquid. Then the liquid finds its way through the cracks and out to sea.

This is yet another unique feature of this mysterious glacier. Taylor Glacier is the coldest known glacier to have persistently flowing water.

(Peter Rejcek)
(Peter Rejcek)

 

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