Ice shelves have been thinning and collapsing in Antarctica because of warmer ocean and air temperatures because of climate change.
The Colorado State University team buried 34 seismic detectors beneath the surface of the blanket of deep snow, known as the firn layer, which insulates the ice below. But when they later analyzed the data, they found the shelf was humming, and the pitch changed depending on how winds were whipping across the snow dunes on the ice's surface, Earther reports.
Scientists think continued seismic monitoring could help researchers track the effects of climate change on the ice shelf. The team measured the vibrations (aka seismic waves) that moved through the shelf for a little over two years, and were able to detect in what ways the frequency shifted based on nasty storm events or heavy winds, seasonal changes or unusual shakeups in average temperatures, and so forth.
The goal was to use the sensors to look at the structure of the ice shelf throughout different seasons, researcher Julien Chaput told Gizmodo, but the sounds came as a "happy accident" that were captured during the research.
"Losing an ice shelf is something of a catastrophe", he said, because it stabilizes nearby ice sheets that "are the true heavy hitters in sea level rise".
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"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", Chaput explained.
The human ear can't hear the unaltered sound because it is at too low of a frequency, the researchers noted.
Chaput told Global News that now, ice shelf monitoring is limited to satellite sweeps, which are few and far between.
The snow provides a barrier between the air and the ice, which insulates it from warming temperatures, comparing it to a fur coat. "Chasing down that lead gave us a unique insight into all the environmental effects an ice shelf can 'feel, ' and on remarkably short time scales". Scientists documented the haunting sounds and published their findings in the Geophysical Research Letters on Tuesday.
The Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica it is emitting tones reminiscent of a didgeridoo, or the drone of a horror film soundtrack.