Why is this Antarctic Glacier “Bleeding?” | Antarctic Extremes


(eerie electronic music) – [Caitlin] This might be
the most shocking feature in all of Antarctica. – [Jill] What do you
think of when you see it? – Honestly? I think of the glacier having its period. – [Jill] Okay, yeah. – [Caitlin] Blood Falls. What is this place? Why is there so little ice
on this part of Antarctica? And why is this glacier bleeding? – [Arlo] We are in the Dry Valleys, one of the most unusual
spots in Antarctica, because it’s part of the 1% of the continent that
isn’t covered by ice. – [Narrator] Instead, here,
we find craggy mountains. Rock is carved by wind and grit to form impossible-looking sculptures. – [Arlo] It looks more
like Mars than Earth. – [Caitlin] This makes the Dry Valleys one of the most scientifically
interesting regions to study on the planet. – I think it’s a great
analogue for both Mars, and a place like Enceladus. – [Arlo] And here in the Dry Valleys, Blood Falls is one of the
most intriguing features. – [Peter] Blood Falls is a bit of an obsession for a lot of people. I mean, there’s nothing
else like this on Earth. – It’s like this really visceral feature just jumps out at you, you know? Blood Falls. – It’s an outlier, and so we learn from those extremes, right? It’s different than anything else we know. – [Arlo] To find out more
about this exotic landscape, we’ve come to Lake Bonney to meet with scientists Jill
Mikucki and Peter Doran. – [Caitlin] You heard that right. This is a lake. – [Peter] It’s really like
any other lake on Earth, but there’s just a really thick ice cover that stays here all the time. – [Caitlin] Peter studies
the lakes and streams. He’s a hydro geologist. – [Arlo] Jill is a microbiologist. She studies what’s living here. – [Caitlin] So there’s actually
stuff living in the dirt. – Oh, yeah, in the dirt, and in the lakes, in the lake ice, in the rocks. – [Peter] There’s actually
worms in the dirt, there’s microscopic worms, nematodes. – [Caitlin] What? I can’t believe anything lives here, where it can get down to
negative 75 degrees in winter. – What got me interested
at first was this notion of how life survives below
ice because of other worlds in our solar system, places like Mars, Europa, or Enceladus. These are gonna be really cold places. – So this is running water, that’s actually the Blood
Falls actually flowing. – I don’t know, we’ll
see, let’s go find out. – Okay. I’ve joined Jill to investigate what exactly Blood falls is, and why she’s so fascinated by it. – Hold those gloves. – [Caitlin] It’s well below freezing, so I’m surprised to see running water on a day like today. To figure out what’s going on, we measure the temperature of the water. – See, look at that, it’s minus 5.2. (laughs) – Wow, negative five Celsius
is how much Fahrenheit? – [Jill] You could do
that in your voiceover. (laughs) – [Caitlin] Negative
5.2 degrees Celsius is about 23 degrees Fahrenheit. Why is this water
flowing almost 10 degrees below the freezing point of water? – Right now, the salinity is reading, I don’t know if you can see
that, 75 parts per thousand, oh, there he is, 83 parts per thousand. – [Caitlin] What’s, like, ocean water? – [Jill] 35. – [Caitlin] Oh, wow,
so this is super salty. – [Jill] This is super salty. – [Caitlin] This water isn’t
frozen because it’s so salty, more than twice as salty as ocean water, but that also means
something extraordinary about where this water comes from. – The fact that it’s so salty tells you it’s not glacier melt, right? It has to be coming from somewhere else. – [Caitlin] Glacier
ice is made of hundreds to thousands of years worth of snowfall, and snow is made of
fresh, not salty, water, so where is this briny water coming from? Looking around, there’s another clue, the red color that makes
this feature look bloody. – All the red here is iron oxides, but as you can see, this
water here is pretty clear. If the water is clear
and there’s iron in it, that means it hasn’t been oxidized yet, and as it spends time at the surface, that’s when it becomes oxidized and leaves this beautiful
red color around. – [Caitlin] The red crust on
this glacier is actually rust, but this means, not only is
Blood Falls strangely salty, but the Blood Falls brine
has also not been exposed to the atmosphere for a very long time. It’s from deep below the glacier. – The liquid source below the glacier has potentially been isolated
for millions of years. So, the next thing to do would
be to collect some samples, and take this back to the lab, and see if there’s any microbes in here. – Cool. These microbes Jill hopes
to find could offer insight into what kind of extreme
life we might find elsewhere in the solar system, like on Mars, where we know there’s salty
liquid below the polar ice. It’s so cool that it’s actually
flowing while we’re here. – Yeah, this is amazing. This is actually quite fortunate. This is a tricky little feature. It doesn’t always flow when
you’d like it to, I guess, so it’s one of those
challenging mysteries to study, and it always keeps me guessing. – [Arlo] But what makes
Blood Falls actually flow? Why is it only here that we
see this bizarre feature? To find out, Peter Doran’s
team is closely watching its activity with a camera. – Yeah, this camera’s been taking photos for the past two years, twice a day. – But what is the point
of taking a picture of it? – No one really has a
super complete record of actual flow events, so the timing of flow events, how often and when it’s flowing, is actually not really known. – [Arlo] Looking at the
time lapse over a few days, you can sometimes spot
distinct discharge events. It isn’t always flowing. – [Caitlin] You could say that
Blood Falls isn’t regular. – But we don’t think
there’s a yearly cycle, so we’re trying to figure
out what the cycle is, and whether it’s connected to seasonality, whether it’s connected to
maybe even wind storms. My view is, Blood Falls
is a pressure relief valve that, whenever there’s a pressure change by a movement of the glacier, something happens, and sometimes, Blood Falls squirts out,
sometimes, it doesn’t. – [Caitlin] Peter thinks
that Blood Falls flows when there is pressure from the glacier on the underground liquid, which begs the question,
how big is this aquifer that feeds Blood Falls? Is this an isolated system? Or is Blood Falls
tapping something bigger? To find out, we have to
peer deep below the ice by taking to the skies. A project called SkyTEM flies a massive electromagnetic
sensor over the area, allowing scientists to
peel back the surface and see what lies beneath. – So SkyTEM can see hundreds
of meters into the ground, and tell us the difference
between frozen ground and unfrozen ground,
and where there’s water, where there’s groundwater. – [Caitlin] SkyTEM has revealed
that there is much more to the Dry Valleys than meets the eye. Here, the green shows underground liquid, lots and lots of it. This part of the Dry Valleys has an expansive groundwater system. – For the longest time, we didn’t think there was groundwater underneath the Dry Valleys, and so we’ve always viewed these lakes as being isolated, they weren’t connected by any groundwater system, and then we flew the sensor over, we spent two weeks flying the sensor around the Dry Valleys, and it completely changed
our perception of water and connectivity in the Dry Valleys. – So perhaps it’s like a
deep groundwater system that might exist on Mars. They’ve recently found a subglacial lake below the southern ice cap on Mars. – [Caitlin] And Blood
Falls is like a window into this alien environment. – It’s a portal into the water beneath the surface of the valley, and it’s the first one we’ve had. – [Caitlin] By studying it, scientists may discover clues about how life could evolve and survive in the extreme environments
of other planets. – [Jill] How do you live
in the absence of sunlight for extended periods of time? What does that look like? What unique adaptations
do these organisms have to be able to survive in cold, darkness, under extremely saline conditions? If we can understand how life operates below ice here, we have
a much better chance of maybe knowing where to look or how to look for the
life on other worlds. – [Caitlin] Okay, so I need gloves. – [Jill] Go ahead, put on some gloves. – Purple gloves. Purple’s my favorite glove color. – [Zac] All right,
Caitlin, ask the question. – [Caitlin] What am I asking? – What are we doing here? What the (penguin squawks)
are we doing here? What we have here is our sample hole, so we’re gonna try to collect
some water from Lake Bonney. Here, take this end. When you’re ready, you
can yell fire in the hole. – [Caitlin] Fire in the hole. – [Jill] Say it like you mean it. (laughs) – [Zac] Come on. – [Man] No pressure. – Gosh. (Jill laughs) I mean, like, who’s listening? – We’re listening. – The lake is listening.
– I am. (Jill laughs) – Give it. – Fire in the hole. – Yeah.
(water splashes) – [Caitlin] Oh, that was a good splash. (soft piano music)

100 thoughts on “Why is this Antarctic Glacier “Bleeding?” | Antarctic Extremes

  1. Biblical creatures litter the earth. Some were frozen. Now they are thawing. Remember when all of the world leaders and heads of religion visited Antarctica a few years ago..? That is why. I know it’s hard to grasp,I was not at all religious until I realized it’s all gods doing. Everything goes through god. Peace ✌️

  2. The one scientist seems a little to obsessed with the possibility life on Mars and other worlds.

    There is plenty of fascinating stuff on earth to study, so chill out and stay objective. Be a scientist, not a scientist-fiction. Okay, okay, maybe she just likes the what if.
    To much SWAG came out of her mouth, though.
    Scientific
    Wild
    Ass
    Guessing

  3. Physics girl you rock I being a B.Tech final year student find your grasp and explanation of the building blocks of science and the engineering that follows extremely informative… Thanks for guiding me to this amazing video

  4. If you have the answer why need to ask them
    And why need to compare to mars or other that no evidence

    If you didn't know your own planet why you talk like you know what other planets is

  5. I am really enjoying the series. I'm glad public broadcasting exists and interesting content like this can be produced without catering to the mass appeal of a commercial audience.

  6. This gives me a feel like a good TV documentary. Too bad Youtube encourages shorter length videos. I feel this topic would have deserved a deeper look into details like how they measured water under ice using a flying probe etc.

  7. I'm here thanks to Physics Girl! <3
    If i can try, i'd say this could be the consequence of climate changes, something related to ocean's water Ph maybe.

    P.S. I'm not a scientist, just a thinker!

  8. So, have you looked into solar influence to see if there is solar particle forcing involved with the flow times and rate of flow at this spring?
    Is there a heavier flow during times when the Aurora is visible?

  9. This show has unexpectedly changed my perception of the scientists living and working in Antarctica. Y'all seem fun and passionate about the work you're doing.

  10. It's Okay to be Smart sent me here! Already subscribed and hooked on this series! Can't wait to see what I'll discover about my favorite beloved continent!

  11. I think Physics Girl would have shouted "Fire in the hole" much better… like she meant it. LOL Thank you, Dianna Cowern for pointing me to this excellent channel! The PBS Terra team are doing a great job uncovering a world we don't know about.

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