With this newfound ability, researchers could use seismic stations to continuously monitor the conditions on ice shelves nearly in real time, allowing us to see how the ice shelf's snow jacket is responding to changing climate conditions. Winds blowing across the icy surface create vibrations, producing a "near-constant set of seismic tones", according to the study in Geophysical Research Letters.
Because the Ross Ice Shelf acts as a stopper, slowing the advance of interior ice toward the open ocean, scientists are keen to understand the ice shelf's dynamics.
"It's kind of like you're blowing a flute, constantly, on the ice shelf", Julien Chaput, a geophysicist and mathematician at Colorado State University, said in a news release. 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. Should the shelf's structural integrity diminish, Antarctica could experience accelerated melting, resulting in a dramatic rise is global sea levels.
Scientists think continued seismic monitoring could help researchers track the effects of climate change on the ice shelf.
Ice shelves are covered in thick blankets of snow, often several metres deep, that are topped with massive snow dunes, like sand dunes in a desert.
The pitch of this hum also changed when weather conditions altered the snow layer's surface, vibrating at different frequencies when strong storms rearranged snow dunes or when the air temperatures at the surface increased or deceased.
Researchers believe that monitoring the snow's melt-rate acoustically could be a way to warn scientists when the shelf may become unstable.
"Basically, what we have on our hands is a tool to monitor the environment... and its impact on the ice shelf", he added.
Being able to monitor the air temperature is particularly important, Chaput explained, because it could tell us which ice shelves are vulnerable to warming events.
Relatively warmer waters eating away at ice shelves.