Antarctic Ice Shelf Sings As Winds Whip Across Surface

The Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica

This image provided by NASA shows the largest remaining piece of the slowly disintegrating B17B iceberg, which broke off Antarcticas Ross Ice Shelf. The firn had been altered permanently, and the ice shelf song was changed permanently as well.

As the global temperature is still rising, massive ice shelves are melting, and the excess water will increase the level of the sea. Strikingly, these creepy tunes actually have scientific value, enabling scientists to monitor warming in Antarctica's variable ice.

"We discovered that the shelf almost continuously sings at frequencies of five or more cycles per second, excited by local and regional winds blowing across its snow dune‐like topography", in a press release.

According to the scientists, whose mission was to monitor the impact of climate change on the sea ice, which is what "singing" is caused by the winds that blow over the dunes located at the top of the sea ice of Ross and, who would be responsible of the vibrations of the ice.

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The team of researchers published a letter that details how they found out that ice shelves on the southern continent are producing low-frequency waves.

Just like musicians can change the pitch of a note on a flute by altering which holes air flows through or how fast it flows, weather conditions on the ice shelf can change the frequency of its vibration by altering its dune-like topography, according to Chaput.

Scientists think continued seismic monitoring could help researchers track the effects of climate change on the ice shelf. The sounds are too low in frequency to be heard by human ears unless sped up by the monitoring equipment. For instance, changes in the hum could indicate the presence of melt ponds or cracks in the ice. "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".

"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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