A spectacular sight in Antarctica is the bright red waterfall known as Blood Falls.
Antarctica is currently facing a dire situation as its glaciers are melting rapidly due to the impact of global warming. As if that wasn’t enough, there is also a mysterious phenomenon known as Blood Falls. This is a waterfall where water with a distinct red color can be observed seeping out from the glacial ice.
At first, researchers assumed that the red hue of Blood Falls was due to the presence of red algae. However, they eventually discovered that the water was incredibly iron-rich. Strangely enough, the source water itself has no color, but when it interacts with the air and oxidizes, the iron causes it to turn a rusty shade of red.
Now that we’ve cracked the case of the red color, there are still a few lingering curiosities. Specifically, the sources of the water and iron are still unknown. Additionally, it’s puzzling that the water hasn’t frozen despite the chilly weather, with an average temperature of -17°C (1.4°F).
The sight of Blood Falls, where water flows out of Taylor Glacier, is fascinating. However, it’s not the meltwater from the glacier, as most people would assume. Surprisingly, the water originates from a lake that was created around five million years ago when the ocean flooded East Antarctica. The glacier formed two million years later, sealing the lake under it.
As the surface of the subglacial lake started to freeze, the salt content in the remaining water increased gradually. As a result, the current water has a salt concentration that is three times higher than the ocean’s saltiness. This unique feature enables the water to withstand freezing temperatures that fall below 0° Celsius (32° Fahrenheit).
It is believed that the iron found in the lake water originates from particles that penetrate the lake through the scraping process of Taylor Glacier. Iron is a frequent element in the bedrock of Antarctica. Microorganisms that thrive on iron and sulfur are also present in this area, which are believed to contribute to the iron content in the water by corroding the iron-rich bedrock surrounding the lake.
Back in 2017, a group of scientists discovered how water from a subglacial lake could be transported through a glacier. They used radar scanning to locate a series of subglacial rivers that flowed through cracks in the glacier. Interestingly, the water from the lake was salty and had a lower freezing point than the glacier, which allowed it to release heat as it froze – this process is known as latent heat. As a result, the source water that came into contact with the glacier would freeze, but the latent heat would then melt the glacial ice, creating rivers that could flow through the glacier.
The photo captures the stunning view of Blood Falls gushing onto a frozen lake in Taylor Valley, one of the ice-free valleys in Antarctica’s McMurdo Dry Valleys. The unique phenomenon is due to the region’s dry climate, enabling the valleys to remain free of ice despite the frigid conditions. Jill Mikucki of the University of Tennessee Knoxville captured the mesmerizing shot.