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‘Blood Falls’: Solving the Mystery of Antartica’s Eeriest Waterfalls

Apr 28, 2017 07:33 AM EDT
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Blood Falls
Scientists have traced the origins of the brine turning Blood Falls red.
(Photo : UNREAL WORLD/YouTube Screenshot)

The century-old mystery of Blood Falls, a famous spot in Antarctica where ice cold water gushes a gruesome red hue, have just been solved by a team of scientists from the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) and Colorado College.

According to a report from UAF, the newly collected evidence suggested that the waterfalls tapped a source of salty water trapped under Taylor Glacier for the past one million years. Antarctica's Blood Falls was discovered by the geoscientist Griffith Taylor in 1911 and it has baffled scientists ever since with its strangely hued water with unknown origins.

At first, explorers thought that the color came from red algae, a report from Science Alert said. Eventually, scientists figured out that the iron-rich salty water (brine) was responsible for the color. When the iron comes into contact with air, it oxidizes and transforms into red, just like rust. No one knows where the Blood Falls water came from, though.

Lead author Jessica Badgeley of Colorado College teamed up with Erin Pettit of UAF to seek some answers. The pair used a specific radar -- radio-echo sounding, specifically -- to track the brine flowing into the Blood Falls.

"We moved the antennae around the glacier in grid-like patterns so that we could 'see' what was underneath us inside the ice, kind of like a bat uses echolocation to 'see' things around it," co-author Christina Carr of UAF said.

With this technique, the researchers were able to trace the brine's 300-foot path from under the 1.5 million-year-old Taylor Glacier to the famous Blood Falls. Another significant discovery of the team is that liquid water can continue to exist even inside a freezing cold glacier. Pettit explained that the water emits heat as it freezes, warming the surrounding ice.

She added, "Taylor Glacier is now the coldest known glacier to have persistently flowing water."

The study was published in the Journal of Glaciology.

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