An artist dropped microphones into the Arctic to record the sounds of melting icebergs

According to the artist, it is one way of paying attention to the pollution we are causing to the ecosystems around us.
Deena Theresa
A representational picture of tourists in front of an Iceberg in the Arctic sea.
A representational picture of tourists in front of an Iceberg in the Arctic sea.


The U.S. National Science Foundation's polar program funded a project which comprises 21 researchers from Europe, the U.S., and Canada. The scientists have been at sea for four weeks studying the ocean and climate-related phenomena, which will be used in scientific analysis. The initiative was undertaken at a time when there were reports on sea level rises due to Greenland's melting ice cap.

What's interesting is the group of scientists has an artist, Siobhan McDonald, among them. McDonald is installing microphones in the ocean off the coast of Greenland to "record and preserve the soundscape of melting icebergs," reported The Guardian.

According to the publication, the hydrophones will be deployed for two years, and record sounds every hour before being collected and harvested for data. The sound clips will be turned into an acoustic composition.

The phones will not just record the sound of melting icebergs; it intends to encompass all ocean sounds, which can comprise earthquakes, landslides, wildlife, pollution, and meltwater.

An acoustic time capsule from the Arctic

"What you’re hearing in the hydrophones is a snapshot of time," McDonald told The Guardian on Tuesday, speaking from the expedition vessel. "It’s like a time capsule."

The recordings will be incorporated into an acoustic installation that will examine "humanity’s impact on the ocean." Inspired by the trip, McDonald will also produce art in the form of paintings and sculptures.

"I’m interested in hearing the acoustic pollution. The sea levels are rising, and that will have an impact I’d imagine on the sound range and all the biodiversity. Sound is fundamental in the ocean and Arctic animals. Hearing is fundamental to communication, breeding, feeding, and ultimately survival. It speaks of the necessity of paying attention to the pollution we are causing to the ecosystems around us," she told The Guardian.

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The continuing effects of climate change

Recently, a new study revealed that the melting of Greenland's seaside glaciers had been accelerated. Published in the journal Nature Geoscience, the study found that increasing air temperatures are working in tandem with warm ocean waters to speed the melting of the seaside glaciers. According to NASA, the Greenland ice sheet is losing an average of 280 billion metric tons of ice per year.

This isn't McDonald's first visit to Greenland; she had been to the place in 2017. And the artist notes that she saw less ice today compared to the last visit. "The collapse of the Greenland ice cap is one of the tipping points I am working with, a time that may already have passed."

"One major thing we discovered is that way up high here in the Arctic life is still thriving. Although the seascape may look barren, it is alive with possibilities. Some of the hydrophones from another expedition came back looking like alien creatures shuffling out of the Greenland ocean. Lichens and tiny plants were living in symbiosis with rusted surfaces," she said.

The European Commission, the Arts Council of Ireland, Trinity College Dublin, Monaghan county council, Creative Ireland, and the non-profits GLUON and the Ocean Memory Project are supporting the art-science project.

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