Antarctic ice shelf sounds like alien invasion, hear it

Antarctic ice sounds really creepy when it vibrates

Winds whipping across the massive snow dunes left the shelf's icy covering rumbling like the pounding of a colossal drum.

Standing atop the Ross Ice Sheet, you won't hear the throbbing of snow below. On top of being really cool to listen to, these recordings help scientists better understand the climatological and geologic processes that shape the Antarctic.

The original reason for the study was not to record sounds down there but to research what's happening to the continent's ice shelves: In 2014, scientists buried 34 seismic sensors under the snow on Antarctica's Ross Ice Shelf in order to monitor its structure and movement.

"We find that the frequencies and other features of this singing change, both as storms alter the snow dunes and during a (January 2016) warming event that resulted in melting in the ice shelf's near surface", the study says. They also noticed a drop in pitch of the sounds during a warm spell when some of the snow melted. "If the ice shelves come apart, then the restraining force is reduced, and the ice can flow faster from the interior of Antarctica into the ocean and increase the rate of contribution to sea level rises". While this hum is normally imperceptible to the human ear, the scientists were able to make audible the sound caused by the wind that vibrates the surface of the ice.

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

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"The response of the ice shelf tells us that we can track extremely sensitive details about it", Chaput said.

This allowed them to monitor the "near‐surface conditions" of the giant ice shelf, which is roughly the size of Texas (or Spain, for Europeans).

"Basically, what we have on our hands is a tool to monitor the environment... and its impact on the ice shelf", he added. For instance, changes in the hum could indicate the presence of melt ponds or cracks in the ice.

Researchers detailed their initial acoustic monitoring effort this week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

The Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica it is emitting tones reminiscent of a didgeridoo, or the drone of a horror film soundtrack.

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