Fostering understanding, awareness, and appreciation of the Polar Regions through outreach, education, and research. Penn State University.

Changes in Antarctic Ice -400,000 years to present

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By Mark Ballora, Associate Professor, School of Music, Penn State and
Matt Kenney M.F.A. (New Media), School of Visual Arts, Penn State
Data supplied by David Pollard, Senior Scientist, Earth and Environmental Systems Institute Penn State College of Earth and Mineral Sciences


Solar Radiation

Variations in solar energy
Sonification: a high shimmery sound pitch and brightness reflect energy levels; higher pitch and more shimmer = higher energy levels

Departure of solar radiation from modern value (incoming sunlight above the atmosphere, W/meter2) at 80 degrees South, averaged over the month of January (Southern Hemisphere summer). Cycles every 26,000 years. Due to gravitational pull from other planets (Milankovitch cycles)


Floating Ice

Polar ice is either grounded (resting on the earth) or floating (extending from the grounded ice like an upper shelf). This sonification combines grounded and floating values.

  • Sonification – a tinny, tapping sound.
  • The floating ice surface area is reflected by tapping rate and brightness – brighter, faster tapping = greater area
  • The floating ice area is reflected by the sound’s amplitude – louder sound = larger area

Ground Ice

  • Sonification – a low, throbbing sound.
  • The grounded surface area is reflected by pitch – higher pitch = larger area
  • The grounded ice volume is reflected by the sound’s amplitude – greater volume = louder amplitude.

Total Ice

Sonification: a crackling sound, meant to resemble ice clinking in a glass Ice volume reflected in

  • pitch: greater volume = lower pitch
  • reverberation amount

Surface area is reflected in:

  • clinking rate
  • brightness
  • width of stereo field


Ice volume (km3). Blue – grounded. Red – floating.


Ice area (km2). Blue – grounded. Red – floating.


Basal Temps

Temperature of the ice at its base, where it makes contact with the earth.
Sonification – 2 layers: buzzing (a filtered sawtooth) and low rumble (filtered noise)

  • Surface area of earth covered by ice is reflected by the rumble’s pitchiness and bandwidth, and buzzing pitch – smaller area = higher pitch.
  • Ice temperature at base is reflected by buzzing amplitude, detune, and brightness (filter cutoff)


Basal temperatures (temperatures at the base of grounded ice, °C


Sea Level

Sonification – resembles water droplets
Sea level is reflected in the droplet rate and loudness – higher sea levels = faster, louder droplets

Sea level (m) relative to modern. The result of variations in Northern Hemisphere ice sheets


All Polar Sonifications

A combination of the six files described above.