Antarctica's Blood Falls — a scene from a horror movie
During an expedition in the Austrian Alps, some scientists came across a strikingly horrific scenery in the glacial mountain tops. Nicknamed “Blood Glacier”, a font of putrid red liquid seeps from the wall of ice and flows into the lower lands just like a macabre expanding pool of blood. The first study of this strange feature of the Australian Alps brings out the fact that this glacial blood is actually having a life-threatening impact on local wildlife, the repercussions of which are still obscure.
It is, in fact, known as “Blood Falls” though, and it’s the wounded ice tongue of the Taylor Glacier located on the Victoria Land plateau of East Antarctica.
Microbial ecosystem and astrobiology
About two million years ago, the Taylor Glacier concealed underneath it a small body of water which comprised an ancient community of microbes. Trammeled beneath a thick layer of ice, these microbes have stayed there ever since, secluded inside a natural time capsule. Evolving apart from the rest of the living world, they reside in a zone with no light or free oxygen and cold temperature, and are basically the definition of "primordial ooze." The captive water has very high salinity and also large quantities of iron, which gives the waterfall its blood tincture. A fissure in the glacier allows the subglacial water to run out, forming the falls without contaminating in any way the ecosystem on the inside.
The conditions encountered in this environment under glaciers are really extreme, at least in comparison to life on the surface. This radical difference between environments gives astrobiologists a wonderful chance to understand how life adapts to such conditions.
- When geologists first found the frozen waterfall in 1911, they believed the red color was caused by red algae.
- The Dry Valleys are thought to be one of the closest analogues to Mars that are found on Earth.
Published by Claudia Barbu