SANTIAGO, December 16 (Reuters) – More than 30,000 shocks have been enveloping Antarctica since late August, according to the University of Chile, a spike in seismic activity that intrigues researchers who study the remote, snowy continent .
Scientists at the University’s National Seismological Center said small earthquakes detected a 60-mile-wide (96 kilometers) sea between the South Shetland Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula along a 6-mile circumference in the Branfield Strait.
According to the center, several tectonic plates and microplates are found near the strait, which rotate continuously, but the last three months have been unusual.
“Much of the seismicity is concentrated at the beginning of the sequence, mainly in the month of September, with more than a thousand earthquakes a day,” the center said.
The center said the shocks have become so frequent that the straits, which increase in width at a rate of about 7 or 8 mm (0.30 in) a year, are now extending 15 cm (6 in) a year.
Sergio Barrientos, the director of the center, said, “This is a 20-fold increase … that justifies this minute … Shetland Islands are diverging more rapidly than the Antarctic Peninsula.”
The peninsula is one of the fastest warming places on Earth, and scientists closely monitor the impact of the changing climate on its icebergs and glaciers.
But climate scientist Raul Coldero of the University of Santiago said that it was not yet clear how the region’s snow could be affected.
“There is no evidence that such seismic activity … has a significant impact on the stability of polar ice caps,” Cordero told Reuters. (Reporting by Fabian Camborough and Reuters TV; Writing by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Peter Connie)
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