The Taylor Glacier.
The Taylor Glacier is an Antarctic glacier about 54 km (35 mi) long, flowing from the plateau of Victoria Land into the western end of Taylor Valley. The middle part of the glacier is bounded on the north by the Inland Forts and on the south by Beacon Valley. (This is part of the McMurdo Dry Valleys, The Dry Valleys are so named because of their extremely low humidity and their lack of snow or ice cover. They are also dry because, in this location, the mountains are sufficiently high so that they block seaward flowing ice from the East Antarctic ice sheet from reaching the Ross Sea. At 4800 square kilometers, the valleys constitute around 0.03% of the continent, and form the largest ice-free region in Antarctica.)
The glacier was discovered by the British National Antarctic Expedition (1901-04) and at that time thought to be a part of Ferrar Glacier. The Western Journey Party of the British Antarctic Expedition 1910 determined that the upper and lower portions of what was then known as Ferrar Glacier are apposed, i.e., joined in Siamese-twin fashion north of Knobhead. With this discovery Scott named the upper portion for Griffith Taylor, geologist and leader of the Western Journey Party.
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.
Poorly soluble hydrous ferric oxides are deposited at the surface of ice after the ferrous ions present in the unfrozen saltwater are oxidized in contact with atmospheric oxygen. The more soluble ferrous ions initially are dissolved in old seawater trapped in an ancient pocket remaining from the Antarctic Ocean when a fjord was isolated by the glacier in its progression during the Miocene period, some 5 million years ago when the sea level was higher than today.
Blood Falls seeps from the end of the Taylor Glacier into Lake Bonney. The tent at left provides a sense of scale for just how big the phenomenon is.
According to geomicrobiologist Jill Mikucki at Dartmouth College, water samples from Blood Falls contained at least 17 different types of microbes, and almost no oxygen. According to Mikucki et al. (2009), the now-inaccessible subglacial pool was sealed off 1.5 to 2 million years ago and transformed into a kind of “time capsule,” isolating the ancient microbial population for a sufficiently long time to evolve independent of other similar marine organisms. It explains how other microorganisms could have survived when the Earth (according to the Snowball Earth hypothesis) was entirely frozen over.
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.