Antarctic ice shelf makes ghostly sounds as winds whip across its surface

Researcher Rick Aster inserts a broadband seismometer into the snow atop Antarctica's Ross Ice Shelf

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 handsome sounds.

The researchers gathered data over the course of two years and found the Ross Ice Shelf "nearly continuously sings at frequencies of five cycles or more", according to Chaput's research letter. The sounds are created when wind whips across the snow dunes, causing the ice to vibrate.

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.

"It's kind of like you're blowing a flute, constantly, on the ice shelf", geophysicist and mathematician Julien Chaput from Colorado State University, told Science Alert. "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".

That cork, however, is slowly disintegrating: Ice shelves all over the continent are thinning, breaking up, or retreating due to rising ocean and air temperatures. Because of the constant wind, the snow like sand dunes in the desert. After a warm spell in early 2016 when temperatures rose past freezing, the pitch of the low hum dropped, indicating snow and ice melt.

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At about 800km across, the ice shelf is about the size of France and has produced several icebergs, including B15 - the world's largest iceberg. The firn had been altered permanently, and the ice shelf song was changed permanently as well.

"This last point is particularly interesting", says Chaput, "because it could allow us to quantify which ice shelves have firn layers that are strongly impacted by repeated warming events, and also yield a metric of how resilient these firn layers might be".

This seismological monitoring can be used to observe the ice shelves from remote locations, according to the study.

He believes the disturbances occurring on the surface are being trapped in the form of seismic waves which travel through the ice shelf.

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