The source of Antarctica’s mysterious Blood Falls and the bleeding glacier it creates has finally been located, but residents of a town in Louisiana are still in the dark about what turned their drinking water purple, why they can’t bathe in it and when they’ll be able to drink from the tap again.
The Blood Falls of Antarctica’s McMurdo Dry Valleys have baffled explorers and experts since their discovery by Griffith Taylor in 1911. It was believed that the red color was due to red algae in the water until the 1960s when it was proven to be colored by iron salts and ferrous oxide interacting with bacteria and oxidizing when it surfaces. But where was the water coming from?
A new report released this week in Nature Communications gives the answer. A team led by microbiologist Jill Mikucki flew a helicopter with an electromagnetic sensor to measure conductivity. Salty water is more conductive to electricity and they found an extensive subsurface network of briny waterways connecting sub-glacial lakes to each other and possibly to the oceans. Blood Falls is a portal to this salty subsurface underworld that’s filled with bacterial life forms.
So what are the purple water-filled faucets of Palmetto, Louisiana, portals to? The grape beyond? Prince’s sub-swamp underworld? No one knows for sure. The 200 residents of Palmetto were placed under a 24-hour “Do Not Use” restriction last weekend after they found purple water coming out of their faucets. The water smells like chlorine and the town has been fined in the past for exceeding levels of chlorine and coliform, a bacteria in fecal matter. Why is the water purple? No one is saying but residents are glad because the color stopped them from drinking this chlorine and coliform koolaid. As of this writing, one street in Palmetto is still getting purple water and everyone is sticking to bottled for a while.
Meanwhile, look for further developments from Blood Falls as the sub-glacial studies continue.