Published: Fri, October 19, 2018
Research | By Raquel Erickson

An Antarctic ice shelf is ‘singing’ and it’s creepy

An Antarctic ice shelf is ‘singing’ and it’s creepy

"We discovered that the shelf almost continuously sings at frequencies of five or more cycles per second", the letter states.

"Chasing down that lead gave us a unique insight into all the environmental effects an ice shelf can 'feel, ' and on remarkably short time scales", said lead researcher Julien Chaput, geophysicist and mathematician at Colorado State University.

With this newfound ability, researchers could use seismic stations to continuously monitor the conditions on ice shelves nearly in real time, allowing us to see how the ice shelf's snow jacket is responding to changing climate conditions. As noted by Earther, the frozen region's ambient sounds include the Rice Crispies-like crackle of melting ice releasing long-trapped air bubbles to the steady groans, screeches, and pops of massive floating ice sheets shifting and breaking apart as they buckle under the weight of fresh snow in the winter or melt during the summer.

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

The waves are too slow to hear by human ears, but the scientists sped them up to illustrate their point.


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

Winds whipping across the massive snow dunes left the shelf's icy covering rumbling like the pounding of a colossal drum. As storms altered dune patterns and the texture of the ice shelf's snowy surface, the pitch of the seismic tune shifted. "And its impact on the ice shelf". This means it is more important than ever that we keep a vigilant eye on any major changes in ice shelves.

Tracking changes in the ice shelf is crucial as, after they collapse, the resulting ice can raise sea levels significantly.

The sensors allowed the researchers to monitor the ice shelf's vibrations and study its structure and movements for over two years, from late 2014 to early 2017.

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