Antarctica's 'Blood Falls' contain a Unique Ecosystem

By ExpeditionsOnline / 04 July 2013

Antarctica's 'Blood Falls' contain a Unique Ecosystem

This five-story, blood-red waterfall pours very slowly out of the Taylor Glacier in Antarctica's McMurdo Dry Valleys.

When geologists first discovered the frozen waterfall in 1911, they thought the red color came from algae, but its true nature turned out to be much more spectacular. 

About two million years ago, the Taylor Glacier sealed beneath it a small body of water which contained an ancient community of microbes. Trapped below a thick layer of ice, they have remained there ever since, isolated inside a natural time capsule. Evolving independently of the rest of the living world, these microbes exist in a place with no light or free oxygen and little heat, and are essentially the definition of "primordial ooze." The trapped lake has very high salinity and is rich in iron, which gives the waterfall its rusty red color. A crack in the glacier allows the subglacial lake to flow out, forming the falls without contaminating the ecosystem within.

The existence of the Blood Falls ecosystem shows that life can exist in the most extreme conditions on Earth. Antarctica's Blood Falls is a wonder to behold both visually and scientifically.

Visits to the Ross Sea & East Antarctica are made by a handful of tourist vessels, occasionally equipped with helicopters to make attempted visits to see the spectacular, alien landscape of the Dry Valleys. Click here for more details.

More photos of the Blood Falls may be seen here.

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