Red Bacteria Create Eye-Catching “Blood Falls” in Antarctica

Updated on

A new study published on Wednesday offers an explanation for Antarctica’s famed Blood Falls. The deep red water, called Blood Falls, empties from underneath Taylor Glacier into Lake Bonney in the southernmost of Antarctica’s three large Dry Valleys, from deep underground salt water reservoirs. Visitors say the dramatic red colors of Blood Falls almost shocks senses used to the glaring white ice and dull brown rocks.

More on Blood Falls

According to a study published April 28th in Nature Communications, researchers have traced the water beneath Taylor Glacier to learn more about Blood Falls. Of interest, the scientists discovered that salty water is found below most of Taylor Valley. It turns out a subsurface water network connects most or all of the valley’s scattered lakes.

“We’ve learned so much about the dry valleys in Antarctica just by looking at this curiosity,” commented lead study author Jill Mikucki, a microbiologist at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. “Blood Falls is not just an anomaly, it’s a portal to this subglacial world.”

Mikucki was part of a global research team that used a new airborne electromagnetic sensor in their research in Taylor Valley. The flying device is a huge, hexagonal transmitter towed by a helicopter. The instrument uses a magnetic field that can detect conductivity differences underground to a depth of about 1,000 feet (300 meters).

The scientists found liquid water under the soil in Taylor Valley, all the way from from the coast to at least 7.5 miles inland. The researchers pointed out the water of Blood Falls is twice as salty as typical seawater, the scientists reported. The giant salt-water reservoir beneath Taylor Glacier stretches as far back as the instrument could detect, at least 3 miles up the glacier.

“This study shows Blood Falls isn’t just a weird little seep,” Mikucki told Live Science in an interview this week. “It may be representative of a much larger hydrologic network.”

Comment from geobiologist

“I find it a very interesting and exciting study because the hydrology of the Dry Valleys has a complicated history and there’s been very little data abut what’s happening in the subsurface,” commented Dawn Sumner, a geobiologist at the University of California, Davis who did not participate in the Blood Falls research project.

Leave a Comment