Published: Sat, October 20, 2018
Sci-tech | By April Francis

Great Flood A'Coming? 'Ominous' Sounds of Melting Antarctic Ice Registered

Great Flood A'Coming? 'Ominous' Sounds of Melting Antarctic Ice Registered

It might sound like the terrifying soundtrack to a horror movie, but winds blowing across the snowy dunes of Antarctica's biggest ice shelf may help researchers monitor climate changes in Antarctica.

Researchers were able to use the sensors to study movements and sounds of the Ross Ice Shelf until early 2017, according to the study.

"If this vibration were audible, it would be analogous to the buzz produced by thousands of cicada bugs when they overrun the tree canopy and grasses in late summer", he wrote in a piece published in Geophysical Research Letters.

Study co-author Rick Aster during a station installation trip on the Ross Ice Shelf, holding a broadband seismometer.

Everyone's getting in on the eerie Halloween mood these days, even the ice in Antarctica. But when the researchers actually analyzed the data, they came to a striking conclusion: the outermost layer of the ice shelf was nearly constantly vibrating.

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. The coating thickness of a few meters acts as an insulating layer, protecting the ice from the heat of the sun.

And just like musicians change a flute's pitch by altering which holes air is allowed to flow through or how fast it flows, weather conditions can change the frequency of the snow blanket's vibrations.

The snow provides a barrier between the air and the ice, which insulates it from warming temperatures, comparing it to a fur coat.

The sounds are too low in frequency to be heard by human ears unless sped up by the monitoring equipment. "And that's essentially the two forcing effects we can observe". Details like melt ponds or cracks forming that might indicate whether the shelf is liable to break up.

"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.

"Basically, what we have on our hands is a tool to monitor the environment, really", he added.

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.

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