Antarctica's Blood Falls explained (but it's still super-creepy)

Blood Falls in Antarctica received its name for a readily apparent reason: it appears to be a stream of blood flowing from the icy landscape. The liquid is somewhat disconcerting to behold, but of course it isn't blood — researchers have long known it to be some other substance which, at one time, was thought to perhaps be a red algae. A new study sheds light on the possible cause of Blood Falls, though, and the reason is far more interesting: there may be a body of salt water trapped under the glacier that has been there for more than a million years.

The discovery was made by researchers with Colorado College and the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and it may finally lay to rest a mystery that has confounded researchers to varying degrees for decades. Rather than being caused by red algae or any older mystical interpretation, researchers believe Blood Falls is being fed by a big pocket of brine that became trapped beneath the Tayler Glacier.

This pocket of salt water may date back to more than a million years old, the researchers state. Radar was used to find and trace the water leading to the waterfall; it was found some 300ft from beneath the aforementioned glacier, with its detection being made possible thanks to the salt content within the liquid. Of course, the salt water itself is clear and not the rich red hue we see from the waterfall.

The blood-red color comes from the iron in the salt water, which then reacts with the oxygen on the landscape's surface to turn colors — think of it like leaving a piece of iron outside that then rusts after a rain storm. While this is all interesting, it isn't the extent of the researchers' discoveries, either.

In addition to discovering the likely source of the water, the researchers also made some determinations about how the waterfall can exist at all given the very cold temperatures of the region. As it turns out, the energy expended from the freezing process does itself release some heat, enabling the salt water to stay liquid. This facilitates the movement of the liquid and the end product — the Blood Falls. For this reason, Taylor Glacier now holds the distinction of being the coldest known glacier with persistently flowing liquid water.

The mystery, then, is finally laid to rest. Of course, Blood Falls itself still continues to 'bleed,' and that remains as creepy of a sight now as it did back in 1911 when first discovered. Tayler Glacier, for those unaware, was named after the geoscientist who discovered Blood Falls, Griffith Taylor.