Glaciologists may find Antarctica’s barren landscape to be the perfect environment for research but there is not much else there in terms of entertainment. That is until scientists discovered dropping thick cylinders of ice down longs shafts in the Antarctic ice shelf produces some bizarre sound effects.
About two years ago, glaciologist Peter Neff from the University of Rochester, dropped a piece of ice down 295ft-long (90m) borehole.
The scientists filmed the seemingly innocuous act, creating in the process a fascinating time killer glaciologists are still being entertained by today.
At the time, Dr Rochester tweeted: “Sound ON. When #science is done, it’s fun to drop ice down a 90m deep borehole in #Antarctic #glacier.
“So satisfying when it hits the bottom. Happy hump day.”
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In the video, you can see the scientist drop a chunk of ice down a long and dark hole in the Antarctic shelf.
As the chunk bounces around the borehole it creates a fascinating cacophony of noise that culminates in a very unusual ‘ping’ sound, much like a bullet ricocheting off of a wall.
The ice also appears to produce a more ominous, heartbeat-like rhythm after reaching the bottom of the tunnel.
The video became a viral hit with more than 17,700 retweet and more than 10.1 million views on Twitter.
But what is even more fascinating, is scientists have been repeating the experiment over and over again, always creating the same sound effect.
Isotope geochemist John Andrew Higgins took to Twitter this month with a video in which he drops a nine-inch (22.86cm) ice core down a 450ft (137m) borehole.
When #science is done, it’s fun to drop ice down a 90m deep borehole
Peter Neff, University of Rochester
Amazingly, the scientist recreated the borehole ping but with a much higher frequency than Dr Neff did.
The experiment was also shared by Jenna Epifanio, a PhD candidate studying prehistoric climates through ice core drilling.
She tweeted on February 14: “Yep, it makes that noise every time! Here’s another video of our team dropping an ice core down a 450ft borehole in Antarctica. It never gets old.
“Thanks @blueicehiggins and @peter_neff for posting first!”
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David Kent Clark, who saw the twitter video, said: “I can’t imagine doing anything else if I was in Antarctica.”
Jodie Richardson said: “My goodness, I’d fill up the drill hole in a day playing with ice blocks and stun waves!”
But what exactly is going on in the videos that produces the unusual sound?
According to Dr Neff, the ricochet sound was produced every time the scientists dropped ice cores down a borehole made of pure ice.
You can see the pure ice in the video has a deep blue shade to it, unlike holes drilled into compacted layers of snow that absorb all sound.
Another factor is the Doppler effect created by soundwaves rushing up the borehole.
Dr Neff tweeted: “1) As ice scrapes down hole, Doppler effect decreases sound frequency.
“2) ‘Ricochet’ is sound of ice hitting bottom coming up at varying speed.
“3) ‘Heartbeat’ is set by 320m/sec speed of sound reverberating up/down hole.”
You can experience the Doppler effect, for instance, when you notice how a car racing towards you sounds different once it zips past you.
As the car moves towards you, the sounds waves it emits ahead of it increase in frequency while the sounds waves tracing behind it stretch out.
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