Scientists Just Detected Some Very Odd Noises Coming From An Antarctic Ice Sheet

An ice sheet in Antarctica. sirtravelalot/Shutterstock

Aliyah Kovner 17 Oct 2018, 11:29

Though photographs may present the barren landscapes of Antarctica as eerily calm and peaceful, at least when no storms are raging, the largely lifeless continent and the ice shelves surrounding it produce a medley of bizarrely beautiful sounds. 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 only catch is that you might not be able to hear all the notes in this spectacular natural symphony if you’re listening with human ears, because many occur on timescales or at frequencies that are not compatible with our auditory abilities. But if you have the right equipment to first capture and then remix the acoustic waves, a whole new soundtrack can be revealed. On top of being really cool to listen to, these recordings help scientists better understand the climatological and geologic processes that shape the Antarctic.

In an astounding new example, a team led by Julien Chaput of Colorado State University and the University of Texas, have revealed how the "songs" created by vibrations in the Ross Ice Shelf can be used to continuously monitor the changing conditions within the ice mass' top five meters (16.4 feet).


“Deploying sensitive seismographs across Earth’s largest ice shelf (the Ross Ice Shelf) for 2 years, we discovered that the shelf nearly continuously sings at frequencies of five or more cycles per second, excited by local and regional winds blowing across its snow dune-like topography,” they wrote in their paper, now published in Geophysical Research Letters. “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.”

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