Scientists record Antarctica's singing ice shelf

Relatively warmer waters eating away at ice shelves

When they looked closer at the data, they discovered winds whipping across the massive snow dunes caused the ice sheet's snow covering to rumble, like the pounding of a colossal drum.

Standing atop the Ross Ice Sheet, you won't hear the throbbing of snow below.

These vibrations result in a "near-constant" set of seismic hums that could potentially be used to help scientists monitor changes in the massive ice slab in real time, the researchers wrote.

That's where scientists buried dozens of sensors to alert them to the shelf's condition under climate change.

The difference in frequencies, or what Chaput describes as singing, happens as the surface of the snow dunes changes. After a warm spell in early 2016 when temperatures rose past freezing, the pitch of the low hum dropped, indicating snow and ice melt. "If the ice shelves come apart, then the restraining force is reduced, and the ice can flow faster from the interior of Antarctica into the ocean and increase the rate of contribution to sea level rises".

Lead investigator Julien Chaput, a geophysicist at the University of Texas, El Paso who began this work under Aster at CSU, describes the study as a "bit of a happy accident", stemming from a broadband seismic instrument deployment on the Ross Ice Shelf, which is roughly the size of Texas, to study the crust and mantle underneath.

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"Either you change the velocity of the snow by heating or cooling it, or you change where you blow on the flute, by adding or destroying dunes".

"That's essentially the two forcing effects we can observe".

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

The Antarctic has been going through many changes over the years, primarily because of the cracking ice shelves caused by global warming.

Chaput considers seismic monitoring to be a good way to keep an eye on Antarctica's ice shelves, which are considered to be among the most remote locales in the world. They posted the eerie sounds online, along with a Geophysical Research Letters report on their greater research.

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