A Strange Noise is Coming from the Antarctic Ice Shelf

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Strange noises have come from the Antarctic before as age-old air bubbles escaped their icy prisons and large ice sheets crumbled.

Researchers studying the Ross Ice Shelf have discovered a new and bizarre acoustic phenomenon. The noise was detected by an array of state-of-the-art seismic sensors. The resulting sound is so haunting that it could be used on the soundtrack of a horror movie.

The noise has also allowed researchers to discover how several processes like global warming and winds are affecting the ice.

According to Julien Chaput, one of the lead researches, the records were first made by accident. Back in 2014, researchers wanted to study how the Ross Ice Shelf, the largest shelf in Antarctica, looked under the ice. In order to learn more about the crust and mantle underneath the ice, they deployed seismic equipment. While they were looking at the captured data, a series of unexpected spectral anomalies was observed.

Researchers theorized that intense events that occurred above the ice layer were captured as seismic waves that travelled through the ice shelf. The results were documented as a recently released study, along with select sounds that were captured during a period of two years.

The sensors were buried under a layer of loose snow and ice, which is called firn. Firn is very sensible to what is happening outside, from the direction of the wind to temperature variation.

The frequency of the sound changed even when storms took place. A particularly interesting event took place in January 2016 when the pitch started to drop suddenly. The cause was the rapid melting of the snow and ice, which rendered the firn less sensible to seismic waves. After the weather cooled down, the pitch remained low and this correlated to permanent or long-term damage to the firn.

As the global temperature is still rising, massive ice shelves are melting, and the excess water will increase the level of the sea.

As our second lead editor, Anna C. Mackinno provides guidance on the stories Great Lakes Ledger reporters cover. She has been instrumental in making sure the content on the site is clear and accurate for our readers. If you see a particularly clever title, you can likely thank Anna. Anna received a BA and and MA from Fordham University.