More than 30,000 tremors have rocked Antarctica since the end of August, according to new research.
Scientists at the University of Chile recorded the spike in seismic activity while studying the remote icy continent.
The university’s National Seismological Centre said the small quakes – including one stronger one of magnitude 6 – were detected in the Bransfield Strait.
This is a 60-mile wide ocean channel between the South Shetland Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula.
Several tectonic plates and microplates meet near the strait, leading to frequent rumbling – but the past three months have been unusual, researchers said.
“Most of the seismicity is concentrated at the beginning of the sequence, mainly during the month of September, with more than a thousand earthquakes a day,” the centre said.
The tremors have become so frequent that the strait itself, once increasing in width at a rate of about 7 or 8mm (0.30 inches) a year is now expanding 15cm (6 inches) a year, it said.
“It’s a 20-fold increase… which suggests that right this minute… the Shetland Islands are separating more quickly from the Antarctic peninsula,” said Sergio Barrientos, the centre’s director.
Scientists have been closely monitoring the impact of climate change on Antarctica’s icebergs and glaciers.
The snowy peninsula is one of the fastest-warming places on Earth.
But climate scientist Raul Cordero, at the University of Santiago, said it was not yet clear how the small quakes might be affecting the region’s ice.
“There’s no evidence that this kind of seismic activity… has significant effects on the stability of polar ice caps,” he said.
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