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Interpreting the history of Blood Falls and the terminus of Taylor Glacier, Antarctica through photographs and field observations
  • Chris Carr,
  • Erin Pettit,
  • Andrew Fountain
Chris Carr
Los Alamos National Laboratory

Corresponding Author:cgcarr@lanl.gov

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Erin Pettit
Oregon State University
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Andrew Fountain
Portland State University
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Taylor Glacier, located in the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica has piqued curiosity since the first observations in 1903. Episodic release of iron-rich brine at or near the glacier terminus rapidly oxidizes, forming a visually striking red stain on the ice and glacier forefield called ‘Blood Falls’. The triggering mechanism behind these releases is unknown. The recent history of brine releases have been well documented since the 1993-94 summer season. To better understand the frequency and extent of brine releases over a longer time period we compile a detailed history of observations of the Taylor terminus from photographs, journals, field reports, oral histories, and published papers prior to the onset of more frequent monitoring in the 1990s. We developed a confidence assessment framework for our interpretation of the presence/absence of brine icing deposits. Results show that of the 30 summer seasons between 1903-1904 and 1993-1994 with interpretable observations, 21 seasons (70%) show evidence of brine flow events, and 9 seasons show no evidence of brine flow. At least two of these brine flow events are newly reported by our study. Concurrent observations of the glacier terminus over the same period showed a localized advance and collapse of a small portion of the southern terminus. We demonstrate a framework to fuse multiple data types and qualitatively assess the confidence level of our interpretations that could be applied to similar investigations of environmental history. We encourage other researchers to explore and contribute to the growing collection of open access historical archives.