Chaput considers seismic monitoring to be a good way to keep an eye on Antarctica's ice shelves, which are considered to be among the most remote locales in the world.
When the researchers started analyzing seismic data on the Ross Ice Shelf, they noticed something odd: Its fur coat was nearly constantly vibrating. The coating thickness of a few meters acts as an insulating layer, protecting the ice from the heat of the sun. From the data collected, they found the whipping of the winds across snow dunes caused rumbling in the snow blanket.
Chaput told Global News that now, ice shelf monitoring is limited to satellite sweeps, which are few and far between.
The only catch is that you might not be able to hear all the notes in this spectacular natural symphony if you're listening with human ears, because many occur on timescales or at frequencies that are not compatible with our auditory abilities.
"It's kind of like you're blowing a flute, constantly, on the ice shelf", said Chaput in a statement.
According to the researchers, variations in wind strength (due to things like storms) and changes in air temperatures can both impact the snow layer, and in so doing affect the pitch of the seismic hum detected.
"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", he said.
"That's essentially the two forcing effects we can observe". This produces a near-constant set of seismic "tones" that are easy to monitor. But, as University of Chicago glaciologist Douglas MacAyeal pointed out, seismic stations could aide near-real-time studies, giving scientists a sense of how that snow jacket responds to climate change. Shifts in the ice's vibrational frequencies could reveal the early formation of cracks or melt ponds - signs of structural instability.
Such monitoring is already useful.
The noise has also allowed researchers to discover how several processes like global warming and winds are affecting the ice. The pitch drop didn't reverse itself when the temperatures dropped back down again, which indicates permanent changes in the firn. Scientists documented the haunting sounds and published their findings in the Geophysical Research Letters on Tuesday.