Hear the ghostly hums of Antarctica's biggest ice shelf

19 Octobre, 2018, 14:52 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • Hear the ghostly hums of Antarctica's biggest ice shelf

Studying the vibrations - and how they change based on changes to the ice shelf - could give researchers a sense of the effect of climate change on the region, according to University of Chicago glaciologist Douglas MacAyeal, who penned a commentator on the effect in Geophysical Research Letters.

"We discovered that the shelf almost continuously sings at frequencies of five or more cycles per second", the letter states.

With this newfound ability, researchers could use seismic stations to continuously monitor the conditions on ice shelves nearly in real time, allowing us to see how the ice shelf's snow jacket is responding to changing climate conditions.

This snow layer acts like a fur coat for the underlying ice, insulating the ice below from heating and even melting when temperatures rise.

The hum is too low in frequency to be audible to human ears, but the new findings suggest scientists could use seismic stations to continuously monitor the conditions on ice shelves in near real-time.

Being able to monitor the air temperature is particularly important, Chaput explained, because it could tell us which ice shelves are vulnerable to warming events.

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Winds blowing across snow dunes on Antarctica's Ross Ice Shelf cause the massive slab of ice to "sing". As storms altered dune patterns and the texture of the ice shelf's snowy surface, the pitch of the seismic tune shifted. "Basically, what we have on our hands is a tool to monitor the environment, really".

Relatively warmer waters eating away at ice shelves.

Tracking changes in the ice shelf is crucial as, after they collapse, the resulting ice can raise sea levels significantly.

Chaput told Global News that now, ice shelf monitoring is limited to satellite sweeps, which are few and far between. "And that's essentially the two forcing effects we can observe".

The team believes that monitoring vibrations could help predict if the ice shelf is about to break.

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