The Mystery of Antarctica’s ‘Blood Falls’ Demystified

Recently, Antarctica has gained some interest after the discovery of blood-like red liquid oozing from Taylor Glacier. While a 2015 study indicated that the water was just salty brine filled with iron and active microbes, that revelation now seems to just be a fluke of the natural order there. New research into the area indicates that the issues with the glacier’s “plumbing” can be traced back to a brine reservoir deep beneath the glacier.

While the old information clued researchers into the outflow of brine coming from the falls and that salty water originates from beneath Taylor Glacier, they have started to decipher the link between these two pieces of information. Normally the glacier isn’t supposed to have liquid water flowing through it; salt lowers the freezing point of water and keeps the brine in a slushy state. Further research indicates that the brine actually grows warm during the freezing process thanks to the heat generated when it changes from a liquid state to a solid one. In the case of these “Blood Falls,” the amount of heat generated by the brine that freezes is sufficient to keep the rest of the brine flowing.

The heat generated by this phase change allowed researchers to trace the path of the brine by using radio waves and timing how long it took for the waves to rebound. After careful analysis, the results indicated that Taylor Glacier’s interior is sufficiently warm and fluid; results that were confirmed by samples collected by a polar mining robot. The end result is a glacier that houses red, salty brine beneath the surface while also having an array of crevasses along its base where pressurized streams of brine enter and rise up until such time that the surface cracks open, releasing a “bloody” mess over the ice.

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