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Waterfall in Antarctica gives forth blood red water

By Catholic Online
August 4th, 2010
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Blood Falls, so named for the slow trickle of blood-red water that cascades down a glacier in Antarctica is a sight to behold. The five-story waterfall pours very slowly out of the Taylor Glacier in Antarctica's McMurdo Dry Valleys. Geologists first believed the red color came from algae, when in fact its true nature turned out to be much more significant.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Scientists estimate that at two million years ago, the Taylor Glacier sealed beneath it a small body of water which contained an ancient community of microbes. Trapped below a thick layer of ice, the microbes have remained there forever afterwards, isolated inside a natural time capsule.

Evolving independently of the rest of the world, these microbes exist in a place with no light or free oxygen and little heat -- the definition of "primordial ooze."

The trapped lake underneath has a very high salinity and is rich in iron, which gives the waterfall its red color. A fissure in the glacier allows the sub-glacial lake to flow out, forming the falls without contaminating the ecosystem within.

The Blood Falls ecosystem demonstrates that life is still possible in the most extreme conditions on Earth. Scientists discount whether or not the phenomenon proves life could exist on other planets with similar environments and similar bodies of frozen water -- Mars and Jupiter's moon Europa being a foremost example - as it would have to arise from a completely different chain of events.

Indeed, scientists of the NASA Astrobiology Institute speculate that these worlds could contain subglacial liquid water environments favorable to hosting elementary forms of life, which would be better protected at depth from ultraviolet and cosmic radiation than on the surface.

Even if it doesn't confirm extraterrestrial life, this planet's Blood Falls is still a wonder to behold.

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