The mystery of the blood red water cliffs in Antarctica have finally been resolved, thanks to a team working at the University of Alaska. The cliffs were first assumed to be red-hued due to algae while many were “creative” thinkers named it Blood Falls, although it soon became clear that the red color was neither due to blood nor algae.
In 2003 the researchers concluded that the red hue was actually due to the iron and water seeping out from 1.5 million-year-old lake that oxidizes when in contact with the air, thus leading to the red color. Now the new study has put the final piece to the century-old puzzle with the help of radio-echo sounding technique. The researchers were able to track the exact spot of the brine (highly salty water), and as it turns out the glacier has its own brine water system underneath that has been pumping up the iron and salt rich water for millions of years.
The Taylor Glacier has a huge network of crevasses where the brine water is naturally added to the ice under huge pressures. These brine paths measure 300-metre (985-foot) in length until they reach the top of Blood Falls. The research also shows how liquid water flows through an extremely cold glacier.
“While it sounds counterintuitive, water releases heat as it freezes, and that heat warms the surrounding colder ice,” says one of the glaciologist, Erin Pettit.
Brine has lower freezing temperature due to the added salt, which along with the heat helps the movement of the liquid.
“Taylor Glacier is now the coldest known glacier to have persistently flowing water,” says Pettit.
This discovery could help researchers reveal more secrets about the ecology of the subglacial brine lake and the millions of microbes living underneath.
“This study can bring us closer to understanding the coupled geochemical evolution of and microbial environment hosted by the brine,” they write.
The findings are published in the Journal of Glaciology.