Hear the ghostly hums of Antarctica's biggest ice shelf

20 October, 2018, 17:09 | Author: Kelly Sanders
  • Antarctic ice sounds really creepy when it vibrates

When they looked at the data, they realized the top layer of the shelf (called the firn) was nearly constantly vibrating, thanks to the winds travelling atop the snow dunes.

The ice shelf is basically always "singing", the study says, but is "excited" by blowing winds that can speed it up.

In 2014, the team placed 34 seismometers in the snow a few meters deep on the Ross Ice Shelf.

Mr Chaput and his team were using seismic sensors to learn more about the structure and movements of the Ross Ice Shelf.

The vibrations themselves are believed to have been created by strong winds blowing across the dunes atop the Ross ice shelf, which vibrates the ice.

Think your friends would be interested? Studying the vibrations of an ice shelf's insulating snow jacket could give scientists a sense of how it is responding to changing climate conditions, according to Douglas MacAyeal, a glaciologist at the University of Chicago who was not connected to the new study but wrote a commentary about the findings also published today in Geophysical Research Letters.


The top layers of loose snow and ice are called firn, and they are vulnerable to events that take place above the surface, including the wind and temperature changes.

Chaput told Global News that now, ice shelf monitoring is limited to satellite sweeps, which are few and far between.

As the world keeps getting catastrophically hotter, Antarctic ice shelves are beginning to dramatically collapse and break apart. However, when an Antarctic ice meltdown is recorded, that means the rise of the sea levels.

"Either you change the velocity of the snow by heating or cooling it, or you change where you blow on the flute, by adding or destroying dunes", Chaput explained. "And that's essentially the two forcing effects we can observe".

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". Shifts in the ice's vibrational frequencies could reveal the early formation of cracks or melt ponds - signs of structural instability.

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