Interested in the science behind fascinating natural wonders or an avid explorer finding the next perfect spot to tour… Antarctica’s strange and mysterious blood falls might be just the place.
What is it ?
Blood falls is a natural waterfall in Antarctica which is tinted red. Water from underneath the Taylor glacier pours out into Lake Bonney.
Previously, this eerie red stain in the middle of icy arctic white was said to be from algae, but this hypothesis was never verified. Now, due to extensive research by the Cambridge University and the published Journal of Glaciology, it has been proven that the subglacial lake is saline in nature and has picked up Iron from underlying bedrock.
How does the water break through ?
Since the water is under high pressure from the glacier above it breaks through fissures in the glacier to reach a lower pressure.
Why is the water tinted red ?
This happens because Iron in brine* saltwater breaks through the fissures in the glacier and reacts with the oxygen in the air. This is the same phenomenon that gives rust its dark red color.
Why is the water underneath the glacier not frozen ?
One would assume that the high pressures of the glacier would lower the temperature of the lake underneath and freeze the liquid, however that is not the case for two main reasons:
Water releases heat while freezing this is known as latent heat*. The latent heat from the freezing of the taylor glacier keeps the subglacial lake liquid.
The water is super saturated with salt and freezes at a lower temperature than freshwater. This happens to also be the same reason why before a winter storm road salt is spread across towns.
Therefore, the water makes its way through the fissures in the glacier and follows the path outwards and into a waterfall which is then marveled over by onlookers.
Brine - a highly concentrated salt and water solution.
Latent heat - energy absorbed or released by a substance during a change in its physical state that occurs without changing temperature.
Ross, Delaney. “Mystery of Blood Falls, inside Taylor Glacier in Antarctica, Solved.” Science, National Geographic, 3 May 2021, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/blood-falls-antarctica-explained.
Nace, Trevor. “Mystery of Antarctica's Blood Falls Is Finally Solved.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 10 Dec. 2021, https://www.forbes.com/sites/trevornace/2017/04/28/mystery-of-antarcticas-blood-falls-is-finally-solved/?sh=394a8f632ef8.
Badgeley, Jessica A., et al. “An Englacial Hydrologic System of Brine within a Cold Glacier: Blood Falls, Mcmurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica: Journal of Glaciology.” Cambridge Core, Cambridge University Press, 24 Apr. 2017, https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/journal-of-glaciology/article/an-englacial-hydrologic-system-of-brine-within-a-cold-glacier-blood-falls-mcmurdo-dry-valleys-antarctica/B5C197906AD54619AEA26068AD92989A.
Image 1 by Peter Rejcek: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Blood_Falls_by_Peter_Rejcek.jpg
Image 2 of Taylor Glacier pho 2013 studinger: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Taylorglacier_pho_2013_studinger.jpg