After many years of misunderstanding and conjecture, the enigma of the “bleeding” waterfalls in Antarctica was finally cleared up.
It’s both a sight, and a terror
Blood Falls is a stunning natural phenomenon located in the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica. The falls get their name from their striking resemblance to flowing blood, as the water that emerges from beneath the Taylor Glacier is a deep red color.
Scientists have discovered that the water is filled with iron and has been trapped underground for over a million years, providing a unique glimpse into the Earth’s ancient past.
The McMurdo Dry Valleys in Antarctica are home to a flowing body of water that makes the otherwise grey and white surroundings resemble a crime scene.
People have attempted to explain the phenomenon’s appearance ever since Australian geologist Thomas Griffith Taylor first discovered it in 1911.
For many years, a variety of theories were advanced, ranging from the plausible—like red algae—to the absurd—like alien portals.
The co-host of PBS Terra’s Antarctic Extremes series, Arlo Pérez, said: “It looks more like Mars than Earth.”
In the meantime, Caitlin Saks, a fellow co-host, makes a joke: “Honestly? I think of the glacier having its period.”
There is a much more plausible explanation, even though it could appear that the time of the month has arrived in this part of the world.
The puzzle for many, many years
Scientists were interested in Blood Falls’ red colours as well as why it flows despite its location where the average temperature is close to -19 degrees Celsius and there is little surface melting.
We now know the answers to these inquiries as a result of a study conducted by researchers at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, including National Geographic explorer Erin C Pettit.
The researchers used radio-echo sounding to map the area’s features and discovered that the water is incredibly salty, with a salt content more than double that of seawater.
They also discovered that the brine contains a lot of iron, and since it is first sealed off from the atmosphere, it rusts when it comes into touch with air. Thus, the peculiar coloring.
Because saltwater has a higher freezing point than freshwater, the water is flowing rather than freezing.
While it may seem strange, water releases heat as it freezes, and that heat warms the surrounding, colder ice, says Pettit.
“This source of heat within Taylor Glacier works in conjunction with brine’s lower freezing temperature to enable brine circulation in the very cold ice.
Taylor Glacier is now the coldest glacier with continuously flowing water that is known to exist.
You might be asking why the water is so salty and iron-rich, and the explanation requires us to look back around five million years.
When the sea level dropped and the climate changed, it was thought that the Dry Valleys were actually under the ocean, and the salty water was left isolated as a lake.
According to the team’s theory, a glacier crossed the lake some 1.5 million years ago, creating the salty brine that currently supplies Blood Falls.