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Explanation offered for Antarctica's 'blood falls'

COLUMBUS, Ohio Researchers here have discovered that a reddish deposit seeping out from the face of a glacier in Antarcticas remote Taylor Valley is probably the last remnant of an ancient salt-water lake. The lake probably formed as much as 5 million years ago when the sea levels were higher and the ocean reached far inland.

Ohio State University scientists reported their conclusions today at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Seattle.

Berry Lyons, a professor of geological sciences and director of OSUs Byrd Polar Research Center, offered the best explanation to date for a strange, nearly-century-old discoloration halfway up the face of the Taylor Glacier in Antarcticas Dry Valleys. The Dry Valleys are well known to polar scientists who have studied these remarkably snow-free troughs leading from the Ross Sea onto the East Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Geologist Griffith Taylor first found the red discoloration in 1911 as he explored the valley that would one day bear his name. Nearly a half-century later during the mid-1960s, University of Wisconsin scientist Robert Black discovered that the reddish stain on the polar ice was really iron salts, or ferric hydroxide, that was being squeezed out of the ice sheet.

The phenomenon came to be called Blood Falls and its origin has puzzled researchers ever since.

Lyons, who heads one of the National Science Foundations Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites in Taylor Valley, led a team of researchers from Ohio State, the University of Colorado and Montana State University that analyzed samples of the reddish discharge over a 10-year period. That analysis suggests that the reddish salts were deposits formed at the site of an ancient lakebed when the ocean receded from the valley.

Perhaps at a time when this valley resembled more a Scandanavian fjord, some sea water was trapped in the lower portion of the valley, Lyons explained. When the Taylor Glacier event
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Contact: Berry Lyons
Lyons.142@osu.edu
614-688-3241
Ohio State University
4-Nov-2003


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