Scientists uncover secrets of Antarctica’s Blood Falls

Blood Falls was first discovered in 1911.
Image credit: Peter Rejcek/National Science Foundation
Date:5 May 2017 Tags:, , ,

Think of the secret of the Blood Falls like a pressure release valve, but with blood-red water.

By David Grossman

On the Taylor Glacier in Antarctica, there’s a glacier gushing water the color of blood. The oddity, first discovered in 1911, was understandably named Blood Falls. What makes it happen? Scientists have now mapped the glacier’s innards, allowing for a clear scientific explanation of the seemingly biblical phenomena.

There’s always been a rough understanding of how Blood Falls works: The water is loaded up with iron oxide, the same as rust. Previous studies, like one in 2015, hinted that Blood Falls might be aberration stemming from unseen underwater network. Now, that network has been found.

The Taylor Glacier, named after its discoverer, Australian explorer Thomas Griffin Taylor, “defies conventional definitions of a cold-based glacier” scientists say. These scientists, which include Jessica Badgely of Colorado College and Erin C. Petit of University of Alaska Fairbanks, write in the Journal of Glaciology that the glacier has water systems both below and within.

To track that system, Badgely, Petit and team used radio echo technology, similar to the echolocation of bats. As the radio waves bounced back at the team from the glacier, they showed water and ice moving at a variety of speeds. The “artesian character of the Blood Falls system,” as the scientists describe it, “is due to localized subglacial channeling, trapping, and pressurizing of brine,” a salty solution of water.

Blood Falls is a “pressure-release valve” for the entire network, the scientists say. It’s a seemingly unique system worldwide, meaning that if you want to see a river of blood you’ve got to go way down south. Hopefully, by the time you get there, Antarctica will still exist.

Source: Popular Science via Smithsonian



This article was originally written for and published by Popular Mechanics USA.

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