Just in time for Halloween – listen to the supernatural sounds of winds blowing across snow dunes on Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf. The winds cause the massive ice slab’s surface to vibrate, producing a near-constant set of seismic tones scientists could potentially use to monitor changes in the ice shelf from afar, according to new research led by Colorado State University.
To better understand the physical properties of the Ross Ice Shelf — the largest on the continent — researchers buried 34 extremely sensitive seismic sensors under the snow covering its surface. The sensors allowed the researchers to monitor the ice shelf’s vibrations and study its structure and movements for over two years, from late 2014 to early 2017.
When the researchers started analyzing seismic data on the Ross Ice Shelf, they noticed something odd: the vibration was almost constant. Winds whipping across the massive snow dunes caused the ice sheet’s surface to rumble, like the pounding of a colossal drum.
They also noticed the pitch of this seismic hum changed when weather conditions altered the snow layer’s surface. They found the ice vibrated at different frequencies when strong storms rearranged the snow dunes or when the air temperatures at the surface went up or down, which changed how fast seismic waves traveled through the snow.
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