MUST LISTEN: An Antarctic ice shelf is 'singing' and it's creepy

Cristina Cross
October 20, 2018

You may want to turn up the volume for this video above, but be warned, what you're about to hear is something very odd.

Odd noises have come from the Antarctic before as age-old air bubbles escaped their icy prisons and large ice sheets crumbled. They found the ice vibrated at different frequencies when strong storms rearranged the snow dunes or when the air temperatures at the surface went up or down, which changed how fast seismic waves traveled through the snow.

It turns out the sounds come from powerful winds blowing through snow dunes.

But beyond producing insane sounds, the research is providing invaluable insight into the changing weather conditions on our southernmost continent. The sensors monitored the ice shelf's vibrations and movements over a two-year period, from late 2014 to early 2017. "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".

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

They also noticed the pitch of this seismic hum changed when weather conditions altered the snow layer's surface.

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The normal human hearing range is 20Hz to 20,000Hz (though this upper limit drops off as we age) and the ice shelf "continuously "sings" at frequencies of five or more cycles per second (or 5Hz)". "And its impact on the Antarctic ice sheet", the researcher added.

But if we deployed seismic sensors on more ice shelfs, you could observe subtle environmental changes, in minutes.

The songs of Antarctica's largest ice shelf could help scientists monitor the effects of climate change on the Southern Continent.

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

He said changes to the hum could indicate whether melt ponds or cracks in the ice are forming and, therefore, whether the ice shelf is susceptible to breaking up.

Researchers detailed their initial acoustic monitoring effort this week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

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