At the Mountains of Madness: Scientists Record Bizarre 'Music' From Antarctic Ice Shelves

Wednesday, 17 October 2018 - 1:25PM
Earth
Wednesday, 17 October 2018 - 1:25PM
At the Mountains of Madness: Scientists Record Bizarre 'Music' From Antarctic Ice Shelves
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You might have heard of the 'Devil's symphony,' the strange, unearthly combination of squeals, shrieks, and thunderous cracks caused by sea ice around Antarctica, but scientists have discovered that the continent's ice shelves may have their own music, too. Though it's inaudible to human ears, this low-frequency humming may help them judge the health of the ice shelf and discover when it's in danger of melting, cracking, or collapsing.

Researchers discovered the hum when studying the Ross Ice Shelf, the largest ice shelf in Antarctica. Preserving and monitoring ice shelves is a major concern for environmentalists and scientists alike due to their important role in keeping the rest of the continent's ice in place. If the Ross Ice Shelf collapsed, huge amounts of ice would begin moving into the ocean, causing ocean levels to rise and potentially accelerating the impact of climate change. To monitor the shelf, the researchers planted 34 seismic sensors below its surface and began collecting data, a process that took two years.

What they found was that the thick layer of snow on top of the ice shelf is "almost constantly vibrating" due to strong winds blowing over the snow dunes on the surface. Researchers found that they could then measure the 'hum' caused by vibrations through the ice shelf to get a picture of its structure and health. According to Julien Chaput, a geophysicist and the lead author of the study: "The response of the ice shelf tells us that we can track extremely sensitive details about it. Basically, what we have on our hands is a tool to monitor the environment, really. And its impact on the ice shelf."

A team of scientists have proposed some methods to keep Antarctic ice structures from falling apart, but unfortunately for us, they would mean undertaking some of the largest engineering projects even attempted by humans. Hopefully it won't come to that.

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