Vibrations of the largest ice shelf cause atmosphere waves in Antarctica

Ross Ice Shelf

In a new study at McMurdo Station, scientists find low-frequency vibrations of the Ross Ice Shelf are likely causing ripples and undulations in the air above Antarctica.

The finding is published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

The study generated mathematical models of the ice shelf, and it showed how vibrations in the ice match those seen in the atmosphere, and how the vibrations are likely causing these mysterious atmospheric waves.

Scientists at McMurdo Station detected unusual atmospheric waves with an altitude between 30 to 115 kilometers (20 to 70 miles) above Antarctica in 2011.

The waves, which have a long period and take hours to cycle, were observed for several years.

Scientists routinely observe atmospheric waves around the world, but the persistence of these waves made them unusual, and scientists didn’t know what was causing them.

Now the new research solves this mystery by connecting the atmospheric waves to vibrations of the Ross Ice Shelf.

Ross Ice Shelf is the largest ice shelf in the world, with an area of almost half a million square kilometers (188,000 miles), roughly the size of France.

According to the researchers, imperceptible vibrations of the ice shelf, caused by ocean waves and other forces, are transferred and amplified in the atmosphere. This can indirectly contribute to sea level.

If the study’s predictions are correct, scientists can use these atmospheric waves to measure properties of the ice shelf that are normally difficult to track, such as the amount of stress the ice shelf is under from ocean waves.

This information can help scientists better understand the status and stability of ice shelves, which are permanently floating sheets of ice connected to landmasses.

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News Source: American Geophysical Union.
Figure legend: This image is credited to Lin Padgham.