Published: Sat, October 20, 2018
Science | By Cecil Little

Scientists told about the mysterious phenomenon in Antarctica

Scientists told about the mysterious phenomenon in Antarctica

The real goal was to monitor changes on the Ross ice shelf as the greater ice-clad continent - under pressure from both relatively warm air above and seawater eating away ice from below - alter Antarctica's massive glaciers and portend historically unprecedented sea level rise.

To better understand the physical properties of the Ross Ice Shelf, researchers buried 34 extremely sensitive seismic sensors under its snowy surface. While the sounds are perfectly fitting for a scene in a horror movie, they are another sign that Antarctica's ice shelves are changing due to weather effects like wind and warming temperatures.

The sound was measured by a team of scientists who placed seismic sensors under the snow on the Ross Ice Shelf, in order to monitor the structure and movement of the ice.

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Researchers believe that monitoring the snow's melt-rate acoustically could be a way to warn scientists when the shelf may become unstable.

One of the researchers, Julien Chaput of Colorado State University, said: "It's kind of like you're blowing a flute, constantly, on the ice shelf", with each note change indicating a major structural change.

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

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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. Because of the constant wind, the snow like sand dunes in the desert.

Scientists heard the "song" of ice in Antarctica. They found the ice vibrated at different frequencies when strong storms rearranged the snow dunes or when the air temperatures at the surface went up or down, which changed how fast seismic waves traveled through the snow.

The difference in frequencies, or what Chaput describes as singing, happens as the surface of the snow dunes changes.

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"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".

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