Beneath Antarctica's Blood Falls, a Clue to Mars?

'Subglacial world' of briny water could hint at life elsewhere
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 29, 2015 7:17 AM CDT
Beneath Antarctica's 'Blood Falls', a Clue to Mars?
Iron oxides stain the snout of the Taylor Glacier in McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica, forming a feature commonly referred to as Blood Falls.   (AP Photo/Science, Benjamin Urmston)

The chillingly named Blood Falls is a fascinating feature of Antarctica's landscape: Interrupting the blanket of frozen white, the falls is a liquid, rusty red. (It's no coincidence that the falls looks rusty: The water gets its color from oxidized iron it carries.) And, as a researcher tells LiveScience, it also provides a gateway to a "subglacial world." Under Taylor Glacier, home to the falls, is briny water: In fact, the area under what's known as Taylor Valley contains salty water that links lakes around the region. "This study shows Blood Falls isn't just a weird little seep," researcher Jill Mikucki says. "It may be representative of a much larger hydrologic network."

There appears to be a whole ecosystem down there, suggests Mikucki, per the Knoxville News Sentinel. Her team says it probably hosts microbes, and experts believe conditions in the area are among the most similar on Earth to conditions on Mars. So microbes that live there could offer "possibilities for better understanding the combinations of factors that might be found on other planets," co-author Ross Virginia tells the Verge. Mikucki's team made its findings using an electromagnetic sensor that dangled from a helicopter. It was able to detect salty water, scanning for conductivity as deep as 1,000 feet. Salt water has relatively high conductivity, the Washington Post reports, and Mikucki tells LiveScience it "shone like a beacon." (Remarkable technology has also recently been used to study the thickness of Antarctic ice.)

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