Researchers solve the century-old mystery of Blood Falls

Scans unlock the million-year-old secret of what lies beneath Antarctica's Blood Falls

Scans unlock the million-year-old secret of what lies beneath Antarctica's Blood Falls

The only thing that has moved slower than Taylor Glacier is progress on solving a 100-year-old mystery about the famous red waterfall nearby-until now. That is, until scientists from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and Colorado College set to work with radar gear and found evidence of lots of salty water buried beneath the glacier, perhaps for up to 1 million years.

And now researchers have finally been able to unravel one of the last mysteries surrounding Blood Falls.

'The red color results from iron oxides precipitating when the iron-bearing suboxic brine comes in contact with oxygen in the atmosphere.

The original theory was, however, discarded in 2003 after scientists concluded that oxidised iron was giving the water spilling from the Taylor Glacier its wound-like gash. The origin of the blood-red water that flows from Taylor Glacier in East Antarctica has puzzled explorers since it was first seen in 1911, but researchers from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and Colorado College say that they have discovered the source. "Jessica's work is a flawless example of the high level of work undergraduate students can do when you give them a challenge and set the expectations high", says Pettit.

'The heat and the lower freezing temperature of salty water make liquid movement possible'.

The reason it has never frozen, they say, is due to a perpetual hydraulic system which sees the heat energy released by water freezing in turn melting the surrounding ice.

And this stuff may have been trapped for over a million years but the find led to another discovery that liquid water can exist inside a frozen glacier.

The team tracked the brine with radio-echo sounding, a radar method that uses two antenna-one to transmit electrical pulses and one to receive the signals.

That's because salt water has to be colder than fresh water to freeze.

The persistent liquid water is even more remarkable considering that the Taylor Glacier is not at the top of the list of the bodies of ice that sea level rise specialists are anxious about.

Erin Pettit, left, and Cece Mortenson collect radar data on Taylor Glacier in front of Blood Falls.

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