Researchers have recorded the Antarctic’s natural soundtrack — usually inaudible to the human ear — and it may help them predict when ice shelves collapse in future.
Scientists buried 34 extremely sensitive sensors under the snowy surface of the Ross Ice Shelf to monitor vibration and study its structure and movement between 2012 and 2017, according to a study published in the Geophysical Research Letters.
But they noticed something odd — the snow blanketing the shelf was almost constantly vibrating.
Winds whipping across the massive snow dunes left the shelf’s icy covering rumbling like the pounding of a colossal drum.
“It’s kind of like you’re blowing a flute, constantly, on the ice shelf,” Julien Chaput, lead author of the study, said.
Mr Chaput said weather conditions can change the frequency of the vibrations, thereby changing the tune.
“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.
“That’s essentially the two forcing effects we can observe.”
Studying these vibrations could give scientists a sense of how the Ice Shelf is responding to changing climate conditions, according to glaciologist Douglas MacAyeal from the University of Chicago, who was not connected with the study.
He said changes to the hum could indicate whether melt ponds or cracks in the ice are forming and, therefore, whether the ice shelf is susceptible to breaking up.