South Pole research becomes art as science, music blend to give the ice a voice

(LA JOLLA) – The sounds of ice in Antarctica are different than the sounds we’re used to. It’s described as having a lot louder crunch. The differences go far beyond sound though. At the South Pole the view, the air, the wind and the vast plains are all like being on a different planet.

“It’s as hot as 20 degrees and cold as minus 25,” Peter Bromirski, a researcher with Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UCSD spends 5 weeks at a time near the Earth’s southernmost point. “We’re isolated so you have to bring everything with you and be prepared for severe weather.”

But he’s not there to give a weather report, he’s searching deeper, to find out how the Ross Ice Shelf is shaking up, “we’ve put in a very sophisticated seismometer.”

His team, many from Scripps Institution of Oceanography are measuring the frequency and strength of vibrations within the Ross Ice Shelf. That’s Antarctica’s largest and most stable ice shelf.

And thanks to the team, for the first time, solar-powered seismometers can measure movement year-round.

Bromirski said, “we’re discovering very large vibrations in the ice that weren’t known before.”

And that data is what melodies will soon be made of.

Glenn McClure is a composer who traveled with Bromirski’s team, capturing the sounds of their research, “my job is to give the ice a true voice by translating the numbers into music.”

McClure had a severe stutter which he learned to control through music.

He wants to do the same for the South Pole… give it a clear voice.

Using modular mathematics to translate data into symphonic sounds, he hopes his music will draw attention to this important work, “make sure the world knows the good work scientists are doing all over the planet.”

Bromirski’s team believes the increased vibrations at the Ross Ice Shelf are coming from waves crashing into the ice shelf, more now since outer ice shelves are melting. It’s a domino effect, Bromirski says, the more melting, the more waves, and increased vibrations which can all leave a mark, “if these ice shelves go away, the restraining they provide goes away and more ice goes into the ocean faster and sea level rises.”

So what happens to the Ross Ice Shelf matters on a global scale. And it will all soon be seen and heard among wide audiences as art and science – two very different passions – blend together. “Anything that raises awareness of importance of ice shelves and to sea level rise and its relationship to global warming is good to get the awareness out there,” Bromirski said.

All of the research being done, along with the music McClure composes will be on display at the Birch Aquarium.


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