This area of Antartica is dry with just ice, but appears to contain briny cold groundwater that may host some extreme life forms. The seeps of salty water contain iron oxide which turns blood red and stains the ice and ground. Creepy but a clue…
Despite McMurdo’s apparent dryness on the surface, it’s always hinted at something more: The region is home to the magnificently creepy Blood Falls, a red ooze that shines bright against the otherwise desolate surface. For a while scientists believed that red algae gave this mysterious, bloody ooze its vibrant color. But even though iron oxide is responsible for the hue, analysis has shown that the feature does contain strange bacterial life.
Here is the abstract to the new paper.
The occurrence of groundwater in Antarctica, particularly in the ice-free regions and along the coastal margins is poorly understood. Here we use an airborne transient electromagnetic (AEM) sensor to produce extensive imagery of resistivity beneath Taylor Valley. Regional-scale zones of low subsurface resistivity were detected that are inconsistent with the high resistivity of glacier ice or dry permafrost in this region. We interpret these results as an indication that liquid, with sufficiently high solute content, exists at temperatures well below freezing and considered within the range suitable for microbial life. These inferred brines are widespread within permafrost and extend below glaciers and lakes. One system emanates from below Taylor Glacier into Lake Bonney and a second system connects the ocean with the eastern 18 km of the valley. A connection between these two basins was not detected to the depth limitation of the AEM survey (~350 m).
This strange natural feature reminds us that there is more than meets the eye to anomalies and it just might pay off to study them.