Sunday, March 13, 2011
March 13, 2011 : Blood Falls
Blood Falls is an outflow of an iron oxide-tainted plume of saltwater, occurring at the tongue of the Taylor Glacier onto the ice-covered surface of West Lake Bonney in the Taylor Valley of the McMurdo Dry Valleys in Victoria Land, East Antarctica.
Iron-rich hypersaline water sporadically emerges from small fissures in the ice cascades. The saltwater source is a subglacial pool of unknown size overlain by about 400 meters of ice at several kilometers from its tiny outlet at Blood Falls.
The reddish deposit was found in 1911 by the Australian geologist Griffith Taylor, who first explored the valley that bears his name. The Antarctica pioneers first attributed the red color to red algae, but later it was proven to be due only to iron oxides.
This unusual place offers scientists a unique opportunity to study deep subsurface microbial life in extreme conditions without the need to drill deep boreholes in the polar icecap, with the associated contamination risk of a fragile and still-intact environment.
The study of harsh environments on Earth is useful to understand the range of conditions to which life can adapt and to advance assessment of the possibility of life elsewhere in the solar system, in places such as Mars or Europa, an ice-covered moon of Jupiter. Scientists of the NASA Astrobiology Institute speculate that these worlds could contain subglacial liquid water environments favorable to hosting elementary forms of life, which would be better protected at depth from ultraviolet and cosmic radiation than on the surface.