A new study in Alaska and Antarctica shows that the noisiest places in the ocean are where glaciers in narrow sea inlets called fjords melt into the saltwater, thereby liberating underwater gushes of bubbles that were once trapped in the ice.
According to research accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, the underwater noise levels are much louder than previously thought, which leads scientists to ask how the noise levels influence the behavior of harbor seals and whales in Alaska’s fjords.
Researchers deploy a hydrophone into Icy Bay, Alaska. Scientists used the underwater microphones to listen and record the average noise levels in three bays in Alaska and Antarctica whose fjords have glaciers that flow into the ocean. They found that the noisiest places in the ocean are where glaciers in fjords melt into the saltwater.
Credit: Jeffrey Nystuen.
“The ocean ambient sound gives us clues to the physical processes going on, but it also is an important aspect of the environment in which marine mammals and fish live. Like teenagers at a loud rock concert, the seals and whales modify their behavior depending on the ambient sound levels,” said Erin Pettit, a glaciologist from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Department of Geosciences. Pettit conducted the study with researchers from the University of Texas at Austin; the University of Washington, Seattle; and the United States Geological Survey.
The team used underwater microphones to listen and record the average noise levels in three bays whose fjords have glaciers that flow into the ocean – Icy Bay, Alaska; Yakutat Bay, Alaska; and Andvord Bay, Antarctica. All of the fjords have many icebergs where chunks of the glacier fell or calved into the water.
The researchers found that the average underwater noise level in these fjords was higher than any other source of ocean noise that has been measured so far including noise from weather, the movement and communication of fish, and human-generated noise from shipping and sonar devices. The team measured noise levels between 300 and 20,000 Hz, which is most of a human’s hearing range.
Glacier calving contributed to some of the noise, but the loud sounds were short-lived. When looking at overall noise levels for a long period of time, Pettit said it was the consistent melting of ice from the glacier and its icebergs that was the real noise generator. This is because the air trapped within the glacier ice escapes rapidly as it melts into saltwater, forming bubbles in the water that pop as they pinch off from the ice.
The black stars show that the underwater noise levels in Icy Bay, Alaska are significantly louder than noise levels caused by storms, melting sea ice or other sources of underwater noise. Credit: Erin Pettit
The black stars show that the underwater noise levels in Icy Bay, Alaska are significantly louder than noise levels caused by storms, melting sea ice or other sources of underwater noise.
Credit: Erin Pettit
Pettit said their findings raise questions about how the underwater noise in the fjords will affect animals as climate change first increases the rate at which glaciers melt into the ocean water and then stops the process altogether as the glaciers shrink and retreat onto land.
She said fjords with glaciers are foraging hotspots for seabirds and marine mammals as well as important breeding locations for harbor seals. One possibility, she said, is that the seals use the underwater noise to help conceal them from killer whales, which rely on listening to locate the seals. As glaciers retreat onto land, the seals would lose the acoustic camouflage, which might explain why harbor seal populations are declining in fjords where glaciers have retreated onto land, she said.
She said further studies are needed to investigate the relationship between the underwater noise levels and the fjord ecosystem. The team will continue listening to glaciers to see if they can develop a method of predicting glacier melt based on the underwater sounds.
The American Geophysical Union is dedicated to advancing the Earth and space sciences for the benefit of humanity through its scholarly publications, conferences, and outreach programs. AGU is a not-for-profit, professional, scientific organization representing more than 60,000 members in 139 countries. Join the conversation onFacebook, Twitter, YouTube, and our other social media channels.
Notes for Journalists
Journalists and public information officers (PIOs) of educational and scientific institutions who have registered with AGU can download a PDF copy of this article by clicking on this link: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2014GL062950/abstract?campaign=wlytk-41855.5282060185
Or, you may order a copy of the final paper by emailing your request to Peter Weiss at email@example.com. Please provide your name, the name of your publication, and your phone number.
Neither the paper nor this press release is under embargo.
“Unusually Loud Ambient Noise in Tidewater Glacier Fjords: A Signal of Ice Melt”
Erin Pettit, Department of Geosciences, University of Alaska Fairbanks;
Kevin Lee, Applied Research Laboratories, University of Texas at Austin;
Joel Brann, Department of Geosciences, University of Alaska Fairbanks;
Jeffrey Nystuen, Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington, Seattle;
Preston Wilson, Applied Research Laboratories, University of Texas at Austin & Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Texas at Austin;
Shad O’Neel, Alaska Science Center, United States Geological Survey.
Contact Information for the Authors:
Erin Pettit: +1 (206) 619-1752, firstname.lastname@example.org
+1 (202) 777-7507
University of Alaska Fairbanks Contact:
+1 (907) 474-7541
Peter Weiss | American Geophysical Union
NASA examines Peru's deadly rainfall
24.03.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Steep rise of the Bernese Alps
24.03.2017 | Universität Bern
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
24.03.2017 | Materials Sciences
24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy