In the faraway realms at the bottom of the Earth, Antarctic scientists have unexpectedly recorded bizarre drone-like sounds.
After burying 34 seismic monitors in the snow atop the Ross Ice Shelf in 2014 — which is a massive Texas-sized slab of ice that floats over the Southern Ocean — the instruments picked up near-constant “buzzing” noises.
While normally inaudible to the human ear, the researchers have made these ultra-low frequencies detectable to our limited hearing range. They posted the eerie sounds online, along with a Geophysical Research Letters report on their greater research.
“If this vibration were audible, it would be analogous to the buzz produced by thousands of cicada bugs when they overrun the tree canopy and grasses in late summer,” Douglas MacAyeal, a glaciologist at the University of Chicago who had no role in the research, wrote in a commentary.
These glacier scientists, however, were not out to record any unsettling noises. Antartica is experiencing an accelerating loss of mass from its ice shelves, which act as plugs holding back the world’s largest stores of ice from flowing uninhibited into the ocean.
The real goal was to monitor changes on the Ross ice shelf as the greater ice-clad continent — under pressure from both relatively warm air above and seawater eating away ice from below — alter Antarctica’s massive glaciers and portend historically unprecedented sea level rise.
The vibrations themselves are believed to have been created by strong winds blowing across the dunes atop the Ross Ice Shelf, which vibrates the ice.
“It’s kind of like you’re blowing a flute, constantly, on the ice shelf,” Julien Chaput, a geophysicist at Colorado State University and lead author of the study, said in a statement.
An eerie flute, indeed.