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Antarctica's Blood Red Waterfall


World  (tags: Antarctica, blood red water fall, climate science, geological, study )

Kit
- 232 days ago - smithsonianmag.com
On the southern edge of the world, a waterfall runs red as blood



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Comments

Veronique L. (214)
Sunday February 2, 2014, 11:23 am
Wow...
 

Kit B. (276)
Sunday February 2, 2014, 11:30 am
Blood Falls. (Hassan Basagic) Smithsonian Magazine



One of the world's most extreme deserts might be the last place one would expect to find a waterfall, but in Antarctica's McMurdo Dry Valley, a five-story fall pours slowly out of the Taylor Glacier into Lake Bonney. And it's not just the idea of a waterfall in the frozen world of Antarctica that is strange: the waterfall is bright red, like blood running from a cut in the glacier.

If you're squeamish, don't worry—it's not blood that lends Blood Falls its unique crimson hue. Five million years ago, sea levels rose, flooding East Antartica and forming a salty lake. Millions of years later, glaciers formed on top of the lake, cutting it off from the rest of the continent—meaning that the water in Blood Falls is something of an aqueous time capsule, preserved 400 meters underground. As the glaciers on top of the lake began to freeze, the water below became even saltier. Today, the salt content of the subglacial lake under Blood Falls is three times saltier than seawater and too salty to freeze. The subglacial lake that feeds Blood Falls is trapped beneath a quarter mile of ice.

But in addition to being cut off from the rest of the continent, the water that feeds Blood Falls is completely cut off from the atmopshere—it has never seen sunlight and is completely devoid of oxygen. It's also extremely rich in iron, which was churned into the water by glaciers scraping the bedrock below the lake. When water from the subglacial lake seeps through a fissure in the glacier, the salty water cascades down the Taylor Glacier into Lake Bonney below. When the iron-rich water comes into contact with the air, it rusts—depositing blood red stains on the ice as it falls.

The color of Blood Falls isn't the only weird thing about it, however—it's what lives inside the subglacial lake that interests scientists more than the waterfall's creepy color. Millions of years ago, when those glaciers covered the salt lakes, there were microbes living in the water, and those microbes haven't gone anywhere, even though the water is now an extremely salty, oxygen-free bowl of complete darkness buried 400 meters under a glacier. Much like bacteria found living near deep sea thermal vents, the microbes of Blood Falls get their energy from breaking apart sulfates, which contain oxygen. After that, something eerily magical happens with the by-products—the iron in the water interacts with them to restore the sulfates, basically recycling the sulfates for the microbes to break down into oxygen over and over again.

The falls and McMurdo Dry Valley can only be reached by helicopter from nearby Antarctic research stations or cruise ships visiting the Ross Sea.
***** More photos at Site***

By: Natasha Geiling | reporter | Smithsonian magazine.
 

GGmaSheila D. (171)
Sunday February 2, 2014, 12:01 pm
Very interesting. When did Blood Falls first show up...Has it only been since the glacial melting lately? Or have scientists known about this for years? I know, Kit, the answers aren't here - just some curosity. Am I that out of touch to have never heard of this before??? Thanks for sharing this with us. Appreciated.
 

JL A. (275)
Sunday February 2, 2014, 12:41 pm
The diversity of nature and her beauties is indeed amazing! I wonder whether climate change will increase the diversity or reduce it...
 

NicoleAWAY W. (631)
Sunday February 2, 2014, 3:34 pm
incredible, ty dear Kit
 

Natasha Salgado (520)
Sunday February 2, 2014, 3:47 pm
WOW i've never seen these Falls before--pretty amazing! Man's grubby claws will somehow manage to destroy it in the future. Thx Kit
 

Yvonne White (232)
Sunday February 2, 2014, 4:01 pm
Kinky! So are those the Same microbes constantly recycling for a million years in a closed system?
 

Barbara K. (84)
Sunday February 2, 2014, 4:24 pm
Wow, talk about learning something every day --- I didn't know these falls existed before. Thanks, my friend.
 

Shirley S. (174)
Sunday February 2, 2014, 4:39 pm
What an amazing phenomenon ! Thanks for sharing this Kit
 

. (0)
Sunday February 2, 2014, 4:49 pm
Incredible! Thanks for sharing, Kit.
 

Sharon Karson (82)
Sunday February 2, 2014, 6:17 pm
Thanks for an interesting article.
 

Walter Firth (64)
Sunday February 2, 2014, 7:52 pm
Kit thanks for the information..and the posting.
 

Alfred Donovan (46)
Monday February 3, 2014, 1:42 am
The wonder of nature never cease to amaze me.
 

Bob P. (427)
Monday February 3, 2014, 6:32 am
Thanks for sharing Kit
 

Nancy M. (201)
Monday February 3, 2014, 10:05 am
Cool, knew it had to be iron. iron IS what makes blood red!
 

Sherri G. (113)
Monday February 3, 2014, 5:43 pm
That is very interesting. Wonder if there are photos available? TY Kit Noted
 

Carol D. (109)
Tuesday February 4, 2014, 10:22 am
Thats interesting thanks Have shared on FB
 
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