Researchers recently stumbled upon a spooky soundtrack, courtesy of the largest ice shelf around, the Ross Ice shelf.
Wind whipping around this ice shelf doesn’t make howling noises audible to the human ear. In fact, the wind isn’t what makes these spooky sounds. Instead, it is the wind interacting with the ice shelf itself. As the wind blows across the surface there are seismic changes in the first 5 meters of snow pack detected by sensors.
These seismic changes, acting like waves propagating through the top layer of snow create ultra slow sound waves. They are so slow you would never be able to hear it…unless we recorded it and sped it up for you. Which researchers at Colorado State University just did.
Discovering the structure of ice shelves
While it is amazing that we can listen to a surface sing, what is more amazing about this discovery is what we can do with those sounds. The sounds generated from near ice interactions of the wind and the geology in the Ross Ice shelf can actually monitor the conditions of the surface. We can do this because the ice shelf sings a different tune during storms, or when there is a melting event on the surface. In a way, the singing tells the story of the Ross Ice shelf.
And if you listen to the song the ice shelf has to sing? We would have to speed it up, but it sounds like a mix of aliens and ghosts in eerie harmony. The perfect listen for Halloween!
Gathering more knowledge on how the structure of ice shelves
The next steps in this surprising discovery are to, hopefully, deploy a lattice of sensors, video cameras, weather monitoring systems, temperature data, and ice core collection. These additional steps would help researcher dig deeper into the structure of the top layer of ice on the Ross Ice shelf, discover how these ice shelves respond to weather, and even bring a better understanding to glacial systems.