SANTIAGO, Dec. 16 (Reuters) – Since late August, more than 30,000 tremors have shaken Antarctica, according to the University of Chile, a spike in seismic activity that has intrigued researchers studying the remote, snowed-in continent.
Scientists at the university’s National Seismological Center said the small earthquakes – including a stronger magnitude 6 shock – were detected in the Bransfield Strait, a 96 km wide sea channel between the South Shetland Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula.
Several tectonic plates and microplates meet near the strait, leading to frequent rumblings, but the past three months have been unusual, according to the center.
“Most of the seismicity is concentrated at the beginning of the series, mainly in the month of September, with more than a thousand earthquakes per day,” the center said.
The tremors are so common that the strait itself, once increasing in width at a rate of about 7 or 8 mm (0.30 in) per year, now expands 15 cm (6 in) per year, the center said.
“It’s a 20-fold increase … suggesting that at the moment … the Shetland Islands are separating more quickly from the Antarctic Peninsula,” said Sergio Barrientos, the center’s director.
The peninsula is one of the fastest warming places on Earth, and scientists are closely monitoring the changing climate impact on the icebergs and glaciers.
But climate scientist Raul Cordero of the University of Santiago said it was not yet clear how the tremors could affect the region’s ice.
“There is no evidence that this type of seismic activity … has significant effects on the stability of polar ice caps,” Cordero told Reuters. (Reporting by Fabian Cambero and Reuters TV; Written by Dave Sherwood; edited by Peter Cooney)
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