Blood Falls: An Antarctic waterfall of primordial ooze
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.…
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.…
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. An explanation may be that the microbes use sulfate as a catalyst to respire with ferric ions and metabolize the trace levels of organic matter trapped with them.
Such a metabolic process had never before been observed in nature.
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 independently of other similar marine organisms.
This unusual place offers scientists a unique opportunity to study deep subsurface microbial life in extreme conditions without the need to drill deep boreholes in the polar icecap, with the associated contamination risk of a fragile and still-intact environment.
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.