SANTIAGO, 16 dec. (Reuters) – More than 30,000 earthquakes have shaken Antarctica since late August, according to the University of Chile, an increase in seismic activity that has intrigued researchers studying the distant, snowy continent.
Scientists at the university’s National Seismological Center said small earthquakes – including a stronger magnitude 6 quake – were detected in the Bransfield Strait, a 96-kilometer-wide ocean channel between the South Shetland Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula.
Several tectonic plates and microplates meet near the strait, leading to frequent noises, but the last three months have been unusual, according to the center.
“Most of the seismicity is concentrated at the beginning of the sequence, mainly in September, with more than a thousand earthquakes a day,” the center said.
Shaking has become so common that the strait itself, as the width increases at a rate of about 7 or 8 mm (0.30 inches) per year, is now expanding by 15 cm (6 inches) per year, the center said.
“It’s a 20-fold increase … which suggests that right now … the Shetland Islands are separating faster 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 impact of climate change on its icebergs and glaciers.
But climate scientist Raul Cordero of the University of Santiago said it is not yet clear how the quakes could affect the region’s ice.
“There is no evidence that this type of seismic activity … has significant effects on the stability of polar caps,” Cordero told Reuters. (Reporting by Fabian Cambero and Reuters TV; Writing by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Peter Cooney)
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