There are some phenomena in nature that inspire tears of joy, some that spark a sense of awe, and then there are those that send chills up your spine. The Taylor Glacier in Antarctica, which was discovered in the McMurdo Dry Valley in 1911, appears to be bleeding. The bright red waterfall, dubbed “Blood Falls,” is nearly five stories high, and it seeps through a crack in the ice. Geologists first believed that the color of the water came from algae, but the hue is in fact caused by a small body of water containing a hidden lake of microbes.

blood falls, dry valley, mc murdo, glacier, antarctica

Some two million years ago, a body of water containing microbes was trapped underneath the glacier. Cut off from light, oxygen, and heat, the organisms were still able to thrive. Serving almost as a time capsule, the microbes subsisted in water that  contained a high amount of salt and iron. The iron gives the waterfall its distinct color, just as it does in human blood. A fissure in the glacier allows the lake to flow outward, exposing the tiny extremophiles to the light of day without contaminating their unique environment. Beautiful and somewhat unsettling, the glacier is an incredible example of how life can persist in some of the harshest environments on earth.

View more photos at the Slate travel blog, Atlas Obscura.

Via Grist

Images via the United States Antarctic Program , Flickr user es0teric, and Wikicommons user Eli Duke.