Antarctic ice sounds really creepy when it vibrates

James Marshall
October 19, 2018

The real goal was to monitor changes on the Ross ice shelf as the greater ice-clad continent - under pressure from both relatively warm air above and seawater eating away ice from below - alter Antarctica's massive glaciers and portend historically unprecedented sea level rise.

Researchers have discovered winds blowing across the Ross Ice Shelf, cause it to vibrate, producing a set of seismic tones.

Because the Ross Ice Shelf acts as a stopper, slowing the advance of interior ice toward the open ocean, scientists are keen to understand the ice shelf's dynamics.

When they looked at the data, they realized the top layer of the shelf (called the firn) was nearly constantly vibrating, thanks to the winds travelling atop the snow dunes. In Antarctica, ice shelves have been thinning, and in some cases retreating, due to rising air and ocean temperatures.

The American Geo-Physical Union released the recording of the Ross Ice Shelf after scientists buried 34 ultra sensitive seismic sensors to study the crust and mantle underneath.

He hopes that adding more seismic sensors can monitor other ice shelves - especially the vulnerable ones.

Studying the vibrations - and how they change based on changes to the ice shelf - could give researchers a sense of the effect of climate change on the region, according to University of Chicago glaciologist Douglas MacAyeal, who penned a commentator on the effect in Geophysical Research Letters.

Mr Chaput said weather conditions can change the frequency of the vibrations, thereby changing the tune.

Researchers believe that monitoring the snow's melt-rate acoustically could be a way to warn scientists when the shelf may become unstable. "Basically, what we have on our hands is a tool to monitor the environment, really".

"The response of the ice shelf tells us that we can track extremely sensitive details about it", said lead author Julien Chaput, a geophysicist and mathematician at the Colorado State University. "And its impact on the ice shelf".

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