Scientists capture eerie seismic howl of Antarctic ice shelf - 19-Oct

The Ross Ice Shelf at the Bay of Whales- the point where Amundsen staged his successful assault on the South Pole

The Ross Ice Shelf at the Bay of Whales- the point where Amundsen staged his successful assault on the South Pole

Researchers theorized that intense events that occurred above the ice layer were captured as seismic waves that travelled through the ice shelf.

"It's kind of like you're blowing a flute, constantly, on the ice shelf", Julien Chaput, a geophysicist at Colorado State University and lead author of the study, said in a statement.

Chaput told Global News that now, ice shelf monitoring is limited to satellite sweeps, which are few and far between. The ice shelf buttresses adjacent ice sheets on Antarctica's mainland, impeding ice flow from land into water, like a cork in a bottle. But when the researchers actually analyzed the data, they came to a striking conclusion: the outermost layer of the ice shelf was nearly constantly vibrating.

"We discovered that the shelf almost continuously sings at frequencies of five or more cycles per second", the authors explain, "excited by local and regional winds blowing across its snow dune‐like topography". The coating thickness of a few meters acts as an insulating layer, protecting the ice from the heat of the sun.

The noise has also allowed researchers to discover how several processes like global warming and winds are affecting the ice.

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Just like musicians can change the pitch of a note on a flute by altering which holes air flows through or how fast it flows, weather conditions on the ice shelf can change the frequency of its vibration by altering its dune-like topography, according to Chaput.

"That's essentially the two forcing effects we can observe".

In fact, this phenomenon of wind that vibrates the surface of the sea ice in the Antarctic is too low for a human being can hear. They posted the eerie sounds online, along with a Geophysical Research Letters report on their greater research.

"Basically, what we have on our hands is a tool to monitor the environment... and its impact on the ice shelf", he added.

"Melting of the firn is broadly considered one of the most important factors in the destabilisation of an ice shelf", he told Gizmodo, "which then accelerates the streaming of ice into the ocean from abutting ice sheets".

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