The Antarctic and Arctic sounds are rarely heard before

What do you hear when you think of the Arctic and Antarctic?

“Singing” ice, a seal that appears in space, and a seismic airgun thundering like a bomb are some of the noises emitted by two marine acoustic laboratories.

The project exposes the public to 50 rarely heard sounds recorded underwater in the polar regions.

It highlights how the oceans are becoming noisier due to increased human activity which also affects marine life.

“These sounds are quite alien to most people,” explains artist and researcher Dr Geraint Rhys Whittaker.

Ice shelf collapse

Ice shelf collapse

“We probably think we know what the poles sound like but that’s often just imagined,” says Dr Whittaker, who works at the Helmholtz Institute for Applied Marine Biodiversity and the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany.

The underwater microphones attached to floats with scientific instruments remained in the Arctic and Antarctic for about two years.

One sound captured was calls from the less researched Antarctic seal. Ross seals live in the open seas and on packed ice that is difficult to reach. The scientists recorded five calls from the creator of different frequencies.

Crab seals, minke whales, humpback whales and humpback whales have also been recorded.

Humpback whales

Humpback whales

These sounds are difficult to capture due to the inhospitable environment and the vast distances animals travel in the regions.

“The difficulty is knowing where the mammals will be because they move and you can’t rely on where they will be,” explains Dr Whittaker.

The massive collapse of the ice shelves was also recorded, a process that is being accelerated in parts of the polar regions due to rising temperatures linked to climate change.

The collection includes the delicate sound of ice “singing”. It is caused by ice moving in the water, or shrinking as the temperature rises and falls, or when ice melts and freezes.

Few people read scientific research published by universities, Dr Whittaker points out, and he hopes hearing the sounds will make people stop and think about the polar oceans. The oceans comprise 71% of our planet’s surface and are extremely important for the preservation of life on earth but are greatly affected by climate change.

Temperatures in the Arctic are rising four times faster than in other parts of the world.



The microphones also picked up man-made noise in the oceans, caused by shipping and oil and gas exploration.

Noise pollution from seismic blasting, which is used to explore the seabed, travels vast distances and scientists have found that it negatively affects animal life.

The project shows just how noisy the oceans are, suggests Dr Whittaker, who says he hopes it highlights the need for laws to reduce noise from shipping and dredging that harms marine life.

Working with the sound art project Cities and Memory, more than 100 compositions were made of the sounds put together by musicians that emphasize climate change.

“With the Earth’s poles warming faster than the global average, this collection of sounds aims to highlight an amazing environment that is rapidly changing, and inspires us to think about ways to preserve it for generations to come,” explains Stuart Fowkes, founder of Cities and Memory.

Dr Ilse van Opzeeland, from the Ocean Acoustics Group at the Alfred Wegener Institute, hopes that art and science will work together to raise awareness.

“‘Translation’ through art breathes new life into our scientific data that goes beyond a traditional publication or policy paper by making it accessible to non-scientists,” she said.

“We must do our utmost to protect, preserve and restore our planet’s endangered habitats. The interplay of art and science can help by creating awareness and attention to this.”

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