'Singing' ice helps keep eye on climate change
Bitter winds blowing across the snow dunes on Antarctica's Ross Ice Shelf cause the ground to 'sing', scientists have discovered, and they believe the phenomenon could be used to monitor climate change.
The near-constant air flow creates vibrations on the surface of the massive ice slab, which give out a set of seismic tones that researchers can listen to from afar. Scientists believe that changes to the song could show whether melt ponds or cracks in the ice are forming that might indicate whether the shelf is about to break up.
The Ross Ice Shelf is Antarctica's largest ice shelf, more than 300m deep and measuring nearly 320,000 square km. Around 90pc of the floating ice is beneath the surface of the water. Scientists are concerned climate change may cause the ice sheet to collapse, allowing ice to flow faster into the sea and raising global sea levels.
To better understand how the Ross Ice Shelf is coping with warming temperatures, researchers buried 34 extremely sensitive seismic sensors under its snow and monitored vibrations between 2014 and 2017.
They discovered that the shelf is constantly vibrating, creating eerie songs which change depending on conditions. "It's kind of like you're blowing a flute, constantly, on the ice shelf," said Dr Julien Chaput, a geophysicist and lead author of the new study published in 'Geophysical Research Letters', a journal of the American Geophysical Union.