Sci/Tech Something's Shaking in Antarctica

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Scientists have discovered massive, slow-motion "ice quakes" trembling twice a day through the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, an Alaska-sized swath of Antarctica. Detective work has traced the source of the shaking to the Whillans Ice Stream, a glacier 100 kilometers across and 1 kilometer thick, which flows from the ice sheet's interior.

It may seem strange that magnitude-7 quakes went unnoticed for so long--a temblor of similar size leveled entire towns and killed at least 15,000 in Turkey in 1999--but people standing on the Whillans Ice Stream never notice the shaking. "The reason that it doesn't rattle the whole continent is that it's a very slow event," says Sridhar Anandakrishnan, a glaciologist at Pennsylvania State University in State College, who made the discovery along with Douglas Wiens, a seismologist at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. Normal earthquakes release their energy over a few seconds, but the Whillans's shaking unfolds over 20 minutes.

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