GREENPEACE — Blood Falls, McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica — MICROBIOLOGY — PLANET EARTH MACRO WORLD group

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Taylor Glacier hosts an active englacial hydrologic system that feeds Blood Falls, a supraglacial outflow of iron-rich subglacial brine at the terminus, despite mean annual air temperatures of −17°C and limited surface melt. Taylor Glacier is an outlet glacier of the East Antarctic ice sheet that terminates in Lake Bonney, McMurdo Dry Valleys. To image and map the brine feeding Blood Falls, we used radio echo sounding to delineate a subhorizontal zone of englacial brine upstream from Blood Falls and elongated in the ice flow direction. 

© National Science Foundation/Peter Rejcek

 Volumetric brine content in excess of 13% within 2 m of the central axis of this zone, and likely much higher at its center. Brine content decreases, but remains detectable, up to 45 m away along some transects. Hence, we infer a network of subparallel basal crevasses allowing injection of pressurized subglacial brine into the ice. Subglacial brine is routed towards Blood Falls by hydraulic potential gradients associated with deeply incised supraglacial valleys. The brine remains liquid within the subglacial and englacial environments through latent heat of freezing coupled with elevated salt content. Our findings suggest that cold glaciers could support freshwater hydrologic systems through localized warming by latent heat alone.

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