Blood Falls, Antarctica: Mystery Solved As Scientists Use An ‘Ice Mole’ To Track How The Crimson Water Escapes

Ever since the Blood Falls in Antarctica were sighted back in 1911, people have wondered about this natural phenomena. But, now, thanks to science, the answer has finally been revealed.

Blood Falls, given its name because of the appearance of what looks like gory red blood oozing from an icy glacier, is situated in the Taylor Valley of Antarctica’s McMurdo Dry Valleys. The crimson water is actually saltwater and flows from the Taylor Glacier. Ever since it, and the entire valley, was discovered by Australian geologist Griffith Taylor, people have been curious about why the glacier flows with what looks like blood.

Blood Falls, Antarctica
[Image by Michael Studinger, NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

For many years since its discovery, people have speculated over what caused Blood Falls to look so much like actual blood. Many theories were formed over the years, some crazy, and some based on scientific observations and assumptions. However, many scientists initially believed it was red algae causing the discoloration of the water flowing from the glacier in Antarctica and this was usually the official stance on the matter.

Then, in 2009, geomicrobiologist Jill Mikucki published the results of her study into Antarctica’s Blood Falls. According to Earth Sky, Mikucki’s team “showed that Blood Falls’ waters contained almost no oxygen and hosted a community of at least 17 different types of microorganisms, thought to be flowing from a lake trapped beneath the ice for some 2 million years.” At the time, Mikucki stated that Blood Falls was an anomaly and suggested a deep salty groundwater system could lie beneath the Dry Valleys. The complete study into Blood Falls and the Dry Valleys can be found in her Nature Communications article, “Deep Groundwater and Potential Subsurface Habitats Beneath an Antarctic Dry Valley.”

Along with this research, thanks to the fact the water held almost no oxygen and the environment could be considered similar to the surface of Mars or Jupiter’s moon Europa, some wondered if this rare occurrence in Antarctica could help support the “life on Mars” theory. This theory, while seeming to be one concocted by alien and UFO believers actually held some merit. Some scientists also wondered if lifeforms such as the microorganisms found in Blood Falls could exist on a planet like Mars.

However, new studies have proven Mikucki’s study, while a valuable resource into that particular area in Antarctica and the microorganisms it contains, is not entirely correct in regard to how Blood Falls flows red. According to these new studies by a team that also includes Mikucki, Blood Falls flows crimson on account of the iron-rich saltwater contained within the glacier and not because of the microorganisms the liquid contains. As Science Alert explains, when this brine escapes and is exposed to the air outside, it oxidizes, just like rust does, thus creating the dramatic blood-like liquid that gave Blood Falls its name.

Blood Falls, Taylor Glacier, Antarctica
[Image by Zina Deretsky / US National Science foundation (NSF) [Public domain] | Wikimedia Commons]

Along with this new study, based on an earlier study done in 2015, the team involved also mapped out just how this brine escapes from the Taylor Glacier and flows free, escaping at Blood Falls, an area that is, roughly, five stories high.

“We knew that there was a brine outflow creating the falls, and that 2015 paper pretty much verified that the salty water came from beneath the glacier,” lead study author Jessica Badgeley told Australian Popular Science.

“The mystery that remained was the link between that source and the outflow. This is an unusual feature, and there are very few things like it. So it wasn’t obvious how you got the brine from below the glacier up to the surface.”

According to the Smithsonian, this new team used a device known as an IceMole to “burrow through the glacier” and help track the tributaries leading from the Taylor Glacier to the outside world of Antarctica.

What do you think of Antarctica’s Blood Falls? Let us know by commenting below.

[Featured Image by National Science Foundation/Peter Rejcek [Public domain] | Cropped and Resized | Wikimedia Commons]