Research

Hear the ghostly hums of Antarctica's biggest ice shelf

Hear the ghostly hums of Antarctica's biggest ice shelf

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.

When the researchers started analyzing seismic data on the Ross Ice Shelf, they noticed something odd: Its fur coat was nearly constantly vibrating.

Ice shelves are covered in a thin blanket of snow, typically several meters deep, that insulates the ice below from warming and melting like a fur coat.

Turns out the sounds come from powerful winds blowing through snow dunes. The high frequency trapped seismic waves that ripple through the ice shelf were recorded by the researchers.

You may want to turn up the volume for this video above, but be warned, what you're about to hear is something very unusual.

The top layers of loose snow and ice are called firn, and they are vulnerable to events that take place above the surface, including the wind and temperature changes.

"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", Chaput explained.

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

Julien Chaput, an ambient noise monitoring expert at Colorado State University and new faculty member at the University of Texas, El Paso, told Earther that the recordings are a "happy accident".

The sound changes as weather conditions changes, which the researchers say can track changes such as storms, and more importantly, changes in air temperatures.

Changes to the ice shelf's "seismic hum" could also indicate whether cracks in the ice are forming that might indicate whether the ice shelf is susceptible to breaking up.

Such monitoring is already useful.

The normal human hearing range is 20Hz to 20,000Hz (though this upper limit drops off as we age) and the ice shelf "continuously "sings" at frequencies of five or more cycles per second (or 5Hz)".

In Antarctica, movements on the surface can often be translated into vibrations that propagate throughout the ice shelf. Scientists documented the haunting sounds and published their findings in the Geophysical Research Letters on Tuesday.