Antarctica Ice Shelf is Unusually Noisy

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A team of scientists made a surprising and unexpected discovery while they were observing the Ross Ice Shelf, the largest ice shelf in Antarctica.

The discovery took place by accident. At the start of the study, researchers wanted to learn more about the ground under the thick ice barrier. The plan was to use advanced seismic sensors in order to map the crust.  While they were looking over collected data, they found a strange frequency that looked strange at first.

It was discovered that the strange sound came from the firn. The firn is a layer of loose snow and ice fragments that is very susceptible to external events and it constantly resonates at frequencies so low that the human ear can’t perceive it. When the sounds are played at a faster speed, an ominous sound that could be successfully used on the soundtrack of a horror movie can be heard.

The team decided to shift their focus and studied the sounds emitted by the firn for a period of two years. Frequencies were directly influenced by changes in temperature and storms. One of the researchers compared the frequency change to playing a different note on a musical instrument.

By the end of the two-year period, the team observed that the pitch has dropped during a period of warmth. This was normal, but when the weather became cooler, the pitch remained low. This led the researchers to conclude that the damage caused by the warm weather has become at least semi-permanent.  Monitoring the vibration of the ice-shelf could allow us to observe them in real-time and anticipate when they are close to break or cave-in. This will also help us to further understand how they change over time.

As the global temperature is on the rise, some parts of the Ross Ice Shelf have started to melt, and the process may be irreversible.

The results of the study were recently published in a peer-reviewed journal.

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.