Antarctic Ice Shelf "Sings" as Winds Whip Across Its Surface

Antarctic ice sounds really creepy when it vibrates

If you're still hunting for a soundtrack for your Halloween party, what about this ghostly tune by the Ross Ice Shelf? Extremely sensitive sensors were buried two metres under the surface to capture "seismic motions". As wind blows across the shelf's snow dunes, the snow layers and thick slab of floating ice beneath vibrates, producing low-pitched humming patterns. To avoid the fate of the Larsen shelf, the researchers found watching him with 34 seismic sensors.

"It's kind of like you're blowing a flute, constantly, on the ice shelf", geophysicist and mathematician Julien Chaput from Colorado State University, told Science Alert.

"Basically, what we have on our hands is a tool to monitor the environment, really", he added. "We care deeply about them because their stability in decades to come will substantially affect global sea level rise and other issues that affect millions". Listen to the ice sheet's "song" here.

When humans burn fossil fuels, heat-trapping gases are released into the atmosphere that contribute to the warming of the oceans and the melting of ice.

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The snow provides a barrier between the air and the ice, which insulates it from warming temperatures, comparing it to a fur coat.

And just like musicians change a flute's pitch by altering which holes air is allowed to flow through or how fast it flows, weather conditions can change the frequency of the snow blanket's vibrations. Antartica is experiencing an accelerating loss of mass from its ice shelves, which act as plugs holding back the world's largest stores of ice from flowing uninhibited into the ocean.

This seismological monitoring can be used to observe the ice shelves from remote locations, according to the study. For instance, changes in the hum could indicate the presence of melt ponds or cracks in the ice. "Deploying a single seismometer on an ice shelf could provide the means of observing very subtle environmental forcing, on time scales as short as minutes, and would provide a means to directly understand the sequence of physical changes that happen in the near surface as a melting event strikes".

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