Antarctica shelters plenty of secrets, but its apocalyptic blood-red waterfall appropriately named Blood Falls contains trapped life forms which date back to the ice formations that covered the continent two million years ago. Although the “bleeding” glacier discovered in 1911 impresses people through the blood-red water that springs from underneath the Taylor Glacier, what arouses scientists is the fact that an ancient community of microbes have preserved under the thick layer of ice in a natural time capsule.
Over 100 years ago, in a scientific trip to Antarctica, Australian explorer and geologist Griffith Taylor discovered Blood Falls and named the Glacier which accommodates the five-story high bright red waterfall after his name. Antarctica’s apocalyptic blood-red waterfall was not Taylor’s only discovery; the lake hidden under Taylor Glacier, which has been estimated to be approximately two million years old, rests beneath 400 meters of ice and Blood Falls’ exit is through a crack in the icecap.
Scientists have discovered that the subglacial lake underneath Blood Falls is three times saltier than seawater, which means that the water cannot freeze, thus explaining the existence of a waterfall in the middle of Antarctica. This lake which feeds the blood-red waterfall may be trapped under layers of ice, but studies show that it contains life forms. The microbes that lived in the water millions of years ago are still trapped in the same place, but continue to survive even if they cannot receive energy through photosynthesis.
The conditions of the isolated marine system feature no light or oxygen, but high salinity, chloride, sulfate and iron which force the microbes to receive the energy from breaking apart sulfates containing oxygen. The perpetual process also contains a rather “magical” occurrence: the iron in the water restores the sulfate so that microbes can obtain oxygen over and over again, therefore proving that life is possible even in the most extreme conditions.
The Impossible Blood Falls
Irrespective of the speculations that surround it, Antarctica’s apocalyptic blood-red waterfall, which contains trapped life forms, can be explained through a simple chemical reaction. The water collected in the subglacial lake beneath the icecaps has no interaction with the atmosphere; is too salty to freeze and has no trace of oxygen. However, when it finds its way out through the crack in Taylor Glacier, the water filled with iron “rusts” during its first contact with the air.
Although Taylor first believed that the blood-red water has been colored with the help of algae, it turned out that iron is the reason why the waterfall in Antarctica is red as blood.
The best explanation for the impossible Blood Falls was offered in 2009 by geomicrobiologist Jill Mikucki, who found out that the water which contains no oxygen hosts over 17 distinct types of microorganisms. Therefore, it has been proved that Antarctica’s apocalyptic blood-red waterfall contains trapped life forms which have been living in the subglacial lake for about two million years. As a result, scientists from NASA Astrobiology Institute believe that the bacteria which thrives under the ice in Antarctica could explain the possibility of life anywhere in the solar system.
By Gabriela Motroc