Antarctica’s Mysterious ‘Blood Falls’ Explained In New Study
Antarctica may seem hostile to life, especially the continent’s vast and largely ice-free Dry Valleys. But new research shows there may be an entire world underground, with rivers of liquid salt water flowing to subsurface lakes, all of which could be teeming with microbial life.
One of the continent’s most unique features, the rust-red Blood Falls, may even be a “portal” into that subterranean world.
The “falls” are actually a brine, or salt water, mixed with iron from the bedrock below. As bacteria slowly chew the rock, the iron is released into the brine. The salt water and iron combination creates a distinct rust color when it mixes with oxygen as it reaches the surface, according to National Geographic.
Here’s a look at the falls, which emerge from the Taylor Glacier and flow into Lake Bonney in one of the Dry Valleys:
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During the study, researchers used a sensor in a helicopter to detect salt water flowing beneath the surface.
“We found, as expected, that there was something sourcing Blood Falls,” lead study author Jill Mikucki of the University of Tennessee told the Washington Post. “We found that these brines were more widespread than previously thought. They appear to connect these surface lakes that appear separated on the ground. That means there’s the potential for a much more extensive subsurface ecosystem, which I’m pretty jazzed about.”
Live Science reports that the research team found water stretching from the coast to at least 7.5 miles inland, as well as briny water flowing beneath the Taylor Glacier at least 3 miles deep, which is as far as the device can detect.