Scientists Discover a Weird Noise Coming From Antarctic Ice Shelf

Oct 17, 2018

By Brian Kahn

The Antarctic is no stranger to weird sounds, from ancient trapped air bubbles popping to entire ice sheets disintegrating. Now we can add another freaky track to the ouevre of icy masterpieces.

Scientists monitoring the Ross Ice Shelf in West Antarctica captured the acoustic oddity. Using a series of ultra sensitive seismic sensors, they produced a soundscape that would fit in perfectly at a Halloween haunted house or as the soundtrack to a 1950s B-movie about aliens arriving on Earth. But beyond being spooky, the sounds reveal how numerous processes from winds to warming are changing Antarctica’s ice.

Julien Chaput, an ambient noise monitoring expert at Colorado State University and new faculty at University of Texas, El Paso told Earther the records were a “happy accident.” In 2014 researchers were deploying seismic equipment on the Ross Ice Shelf, the largest hunk of floating ice in Antarctica, to study the crust and mantle underneath it. Chaput hopped on board hoping to tease out seasonal changes to the ice shelf’s mass, “and instead found strange spectral anomalies that escaped easy explanations, suggesting high frequency trapped seismic waves in the top couple of meters of snow.”

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