When humans burn fossil fuels, heat-trapping gases are released into the atmosphere that contribute to the warming of the oceans and the melting of ice. Sea levels are rising because of this warming trend — both as land-based ice melts and as ocean molecules expand. An ice shelf is like a cork in a bottle, Aster told CNN. To better understand those rises, Aster worked with lead author Julien Chaput and others to discover how the deployment of sensitive seismographs can change the way scientists study glaciers.
They placed the instruments within the top few feet of the ice shelf, and managed to capture the haunting frequencies. To study the ice shelf's physical characteristics, scientists buried sensitive seismometers beneath the snow to record the shelf's changing vibrations. When scientists analyzed acoustic data collected between and , they realized the snow dunes atop the Ross Ice Shelf are constantly vibrating.
As storms altered dune patterns and the texture of the ice shelf's snowy surface, the pitch of the seismic tune shifted. Changes in air temperature and wind speed also affected how the vibrations traveled through the snow and ice.
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While the ice shelf's songs aren't audible to the human ear, the sensitive seismometers allowed scientists to decipher the frozen tunes. Scientists think continued seismic monitoring could help researchers track the effects of climate change on the ice shelf. Shifts in the ice's vibrational frequencies could reveal the early formation of cracks or melt ponds -- signs of structural instability.
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