Blood Falls: Portal Into an Antarctic Subglacial Microbial World

Presenter: Jill Mikucki, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
When: April 4, 2014 12PM PDT

Blood Falls is an iron-rich, saline feature at the terminus of Taylor Glacier in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica. Geophysical and geochemical data indicate that the source of this surface outflow originates below the glacier, however the extent of the subglacial brine remains unknown. The brine harbors a microbial community that persists, despite cold, dark isolation. In order to better understand this ecosystem, drilling into the subglacial source will be required. Antarctic subglacial environments, like astrobiological targets on extraterrestrial worlds, are pristine ecosystems that warrant protection. Modern ice drilling projects, such as those planned for Blood Falls, are developing clean access approaches to prevent the contamination of both the subglacial environment and the samples retrieved.

In this talk I will highlight recent expeditions to Blood Falls, which collectively shape our current understanding of the Taylor Glacier ecosystem. The brine below Taylor Glacier is an example of the diversity of potential microbial habitats hidden beneath Antarctic ice and provides important insight into subice microbial community structure and function. Collaborative, interdisciplinary studies of Blood Falls, such as those presented here, will enable the development of relevant tools for geomicrobiological examination of other subglacial environments on Earth and help prepare us for the exploration of icy extraterrestrial targets.

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