NOAA Listens to Active Antarctic

Watch Video of the Search to Record the Sounds of Ice Sheets, Undersea Volcanoes and Whales


NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory Vents Program conducts research on the impacts and consequences of submarine volcanoes and hydrothermal venting on the global ocean.

PMEL's Acoustics Project’s trips to Antarctica's Bransfiled Strait--which lies between the Antarctic Peninsula and South America-- in 2005-06 resulted in new discoveries about the region's seismic activity.

The researchers, led by PMEL Vents principal investigator Bob Dziak, used an array of sensitive hydrophones to listen for clues to the Southern Ocean's unique seismology, ice field movements and biology.

Oregon Public Television produced a 10-minute video of highlights of the project in the field in the Southern Ocean

The PMEL team found that this remote region in the Bransfield Strait is much more seismically active than scientists previously thought and its ongoing earthquakes in proximity to massive ice fields create an unusual relationship that may not occur anywhere else on Earth.

"This is a small subduction zone that supposedly has ceased its tectonic activity, but we recorded an awful lot of earthquakes during the expedition," Dziak said. "So it may not be ceased after all."

The project was a component of NOAA's Ocean Exploration program.

In December 2005, the researchers deployed several hydrophones that were designed to withstand the frigid temperatures of Antarctic waters. Dziak and his colleagues returned to the region in December 2006 to retrieve the data from the hydrophones, which had a year's worth of recordings, and then redeploy them.

What they found in analyzing the data is a symphony of sounds revealing undersea earthquakes, the movement of massive icebergs, and the vocalizations of whales, penguins, elephant seals and other marine mammal species.

Web Links

NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory's Vents Program

Read a blog from the Southern Ocean 2006 expedition

NOAA's Ocean Explorer Web site.