Antarctic ice shelf 'sings'

Science allows us to hear Antarctica’s haunting ice song for the 1st time

Science allows us to hear Antarctica’s haunting ice song for the 1st time

The Ross Ice Shelf, fed by glaciers from the Antarctic interior, stretches 193,363 square miles across the Southern Ocean.

The barren and desolate Antarctic is an intimidating sight to behold.

Scientists who set out to watch the ice shift in Antarctica have ended up listening to it instead. The goal was to use the sensors to look at the structure of the ice shelf throughout different seasons, researcher Julien Chaput told Gizmodo, but the sounds came as a "happy accident" that were captured during the research. 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. 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.

Chaput told Global News that now, ice shelf monitoring is limited to satellite sweeps, which are few and far between. If the video above is anything to go by, all you need is some very hard ice, some wind and a contact mic, and you might be able to create some insane natural feedback.

"It's kind of like you're blowing a flute, constantly, on the ice shelf", said Chaput in a statement. "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".

"That's essentially the two forcing effects we can observe". As Chaput explains, the "strange spectral anomalies...escaped easy explanations, suggesting high frequency trapped seismic waves in the top couple of meters of snow". Details like melt ponds or cracks forming that might indicate whether the shelf is liable to break up.

Such monitoring is already useful.

The snow provides a barrier between the air and the ice, which insulates it from warming temperatures, comparing it to a fur coat. But when temperatures dropped to their normal freezing levels, the corresponding drop in pitch did not reverse, indicating that permanent changes may have occurred in the blanket.

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

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