Science

A Strange Noise is Coming from the Antarctic Ice Shelf

A Strange Noise is Coming from the Antarctic Ice Shelf”

"The response of the ice shelf tells us that we can track extremely sensitive details about it", said lead author Julien Chaput, a geophysicist and mathematician at the Colorado State University. "And its impact on the ice shelf".

That's where scientists buried dozens of sensors to alert them to the shelf's condition under climate change.

In 2014, scientists deployed seismic equipment on the Ross Ice Shelf, which is the biggest section of floating ice in Antarctica, so they could study the crust and mantle underneath it. Chaput hoped to find some seasonal changes in its mass.

The waves are too slow to hear by human ears, but the scientists sped them up to illustrate their point. The firn had been altered permanently, and the ice shelf song was changed permanently as well.

Ice shelves are covered in a thin blanket of snow, typically several meters deep, that insulates the ice below from warming and melting like a fur coat. Strikingly, these creepy tunes actually have scientific value, enabling scientists to monitor warming in Antarctica's variable ice.

When the researchers started analyzing seismic data on the Ross Ice Shelf, they noticed something odd: the vibration was nearly constant. Listening for changes to the hum could indicate how the shelf is responding to changing weather conditions and whether it's in danger of cracking, the researchers report this week in Geophysical Research Letters.

Winds blowing across snow dunes on Antarctica's Ross Ice Shelf cause the massive slab of ice to "sing".

Unusual noises have come from the Antarctic before as age-old air bubbles escaped their icy prisons and large ice sheets crumbled. The team measured the vibrations (aka seismic waves) that moved through the shelf for a little over two years, and were able to detect in what ways the frequency shifted based on nasty storm events or heavy winds, seasonal changes or unusual shakeups in average temperatures, and so forth.

Changes to the ice shelf's "seismic hum" could also indicate whether cracks in the ice are forming that might indicate whether the ice shelf is susceptible to breaking up.



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