Scientists Track Haunting Sounds Of Antarctica’s Ice Shelves


Turns out the sounds come from powerful winds blowing through snow dunes. What they heard however, the creeping "singing" of the ice shelf, is not at all what the anticipated they would find.

For context, it can sometimes be necessary to dramatically speed up or slow down sounds in order for humans to perceive or bear them - like this slowed-down version of Justin Bieber.

In an effort to better understand the physical properties of the Ross Ice Shelf, researchers buried 34 seismic sensors under its snowy surface (which, often several meters deep, acts as insulation).

When scientists analyzed acoustic data collected between 2014 and 2017, they realized the snow dunes atop the Ross Ice Shelf are constantly vibrating.

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The goal of their research was to learn more about the physical properties of the Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica's (and the world's) largest floating slab of ice, which is roughly the size of Spain. The high frequency trapped seismic waves that ripple through the ice shelf were recorded by the researchers.

The researchers noticed that the height of seismic hum changes when under the influence of weather conditions of snow dunes "rebuilt" or when the temperature abruptly rises or falls.

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Everyone's getting in on the eerie Halloween mood these days, even the ice in Antarctica. If the ice shelves collapse, the continental ice begins to slide into the sea, raising its level.

But as if that wasn't enough, scientists found that when the wind blows across its surface, the ice shelf hums eerie soundscapes that would fit right in a B-movie horror flick.

But if we deployed seismic sensors on more ice shelfs, you could observe subtle environmental changes, in minutes.

He said changes to the hum could indicate whether melt ponds or cracks in the ice are forming and, therefore, whether the ice shelf is susceptible to breaking up.

The findings are reported in Geophysical Research Letters.

Julien Chaput, an ambient noise monitoring expert at Colorado State University and new faculty member at the University of Texas, El Paso, told Earther that the recordings are a "happy accident".