Video: The sound of an iceberg being born

Glaciers around the world are melting and contributing to sea level rise, but scientists still don’t quite understand how exactly glaciers give birth to icebergs as they flow into the ocean and lose ice. That’s because the ice breakup patterns vary across different environments and can be difficult to observe directly. Now, researchers have found a way to study these patterns in detail—by listening to the sounds of ice splitting off, they report online this month in Geophysical Research Letters. The researchers used underwater microphones aboard buoys to record the ambient noises of a variety of ice breakups at the Hans Glacier in Norway and synchronized the recordings with time-lapse photos of the glacier (as shown in the video above). They observed three types of ice losses, each with a distinctive and detailed sound signature: the splash of an ice block falling off into the water; the crack of a fragment sliding down the glacier’s rough surface; and the soft thud of an underwater ice chunk breaking away and floating up, followed by a secondary impact as it surfaces. The scientists hope that these sound patterns would help them understand the mechanisms of glacier ice breakups and predict the mass loss more reliably.