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Mystery of Antarctica’s bright red ‘Blood Falls’ waterfall may have been solved

Published Jul 1st, 2023 6:15PM EDT
Blood Falls and the Blood Falls Antarctic Specially Protected Area, on the Taylor Glacier in the Taylor Valley, Antarctica.
Image: Cavan Images / Adobe

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Ken Livi, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University, may have finally discovered the secret behind the mysterious “Blood Falls” of Taylor Glacier in Antarctica. Discovered over 100 years ago during the infamous Terra Nova Expedition to Antarctica in 1911, the “Blood Falls” were named after the bright red water that seems to flow from the falls.

While many believed that the falls acquired this red color due to minerals in the water, new research on samples taken from the fall point towards a much different culprit. Instead of minerals, Livi says that the water is given its color by little nanospheres that are iron-rich and filled with tons of other elements like calcium, silicon, sodium, and aluminum.

It’s these nanospheres that have helped push the mystery of the “Blood Falls” red coloring, Livi believes. While nanospheres are made up of different elements, they aren’t quite minerals, Livi explains in a statement shared on the Johns Hopkins website. You can find a full paper on the findings in Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences.

Livi says that the nanospheres discovered by him and the team he worked with were previously unseen because of how small they are, and also because previous research was looking for evidence of minerals. But since nanospheres don’t meet the crystalline structure we see in minerals, they weren’t spotted. To fully understand the mystery of the Blood Falls, though, you have to understand the microbiology in Antarctica, Livi says.

“There are microorganisms that have been existing for potentially millions of years underneath the saline waters of the Antarctic glacier. These are ancient waters,” he explained. As such, the nanospheres we see at play here could be from ancient times, before modern-day humans even roamed the planet. These waters are host to all kinds of bacteria that may not have changed for millennia, Livi says.

While Livi is confident that he and the team have solved the mystery of the Blood Falls, he says that the researcher has only uncovered another mystery that we’ll need to address to properly identify similar elements on other planets, like Mars. But, by studying these extremes on Earth, we can hopefully better prepare for a manned mission to Mars and other planets.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.