Blood Falls, named for its ruddy colour, is not, in fact, a gush of blood from some unseen wound.
The colour was initially chalked up to red algae, but a new study in the Journal of Glaciology has uncovered its true origin using radar to scan the layers of ice from which the river pours.
Located in Antarctica’s McMurdo Dry Valleys, the falls pour forth from Taylor Glacier, and the liquid bubbles up from fissures in the glacier’s surface.
The flow was previously a mystery, as the mean temperature is -17 degrees Celsius and little glacial melting can be seen at the surface.
Imaging from underneath the glacier helped solve the mystery, revealing a complex network of subglacial rivers and a subglacial lake—all filled with brine high in iron, giving the falls its reddish tint.
According to the study, the makeup of the brine explains the fact that it flows instead of freezes.“The brine remains liquid within the subglacial and englacial environments through latent heat of freezing coupled with elevated salt content,” the study explains.
Call it a telescope, call it a detector, or call it an observatory – it’s all the same to the University of Wisconsin scientists at the IceCube, which is now the world’s largest neutrino research array.
The IceCube array consists of 86 identical holes, drilled 1.5 miles deep, scattered throughout the ice and filled with extremely sensitive particle physics monitoring equipment.
The IceCube is a tangential facility of the much larger Amundson-Scott South Pole Station, both of which are literally located at the South Pole in Antarctica, where temperatures are normally a deadly -75 degrees Fahrenheit.
The research being done at the IceCube is obscure and esoteric, as they essentially search for signs of tiny subatomic particles called neutrinos as they streak through the crystal clear ice thousands of feet below the surface, but its impact could be profound.
Neutrinos are one of the most mysterious building blocks of the universe, and while studying them is notoriously difficult, the more scientists understand about their behavior, the more they will be able to explain about how the universe works.
More heralded and easily understood than the science of the lab is remarkable engineering it took to create it. Beyond the extreme difficulties of travel and habitation at the South Pole, the drilling of the all-important holes used for the array’s sensors is an engineering marvel.
Using highly advanced equipment, scientists bored into the earth with an ultra-high-pressure hot water drill, not unlike a massive power washer.
Each tube took approximately 40 hours to drill in total.
Antarctica seems like a long way to go to measure one tiny particle, but the darkness and purity of the subsurface ice at the South Pole creates a naturally ideal environment for detecting neutrinos, which almost never actually interact with matter, making them very hard to measure.