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SANTIAGO (Reuters) – According to the University of Chile, more than 30,000 tremors have shaken Antarctica since the end of August, an increase in seismic activity that has puzzled researchers studying the remote, snowbound continent.

Scientists with the National Seismological Center at the University said that in the Bransfield Strait, a 60-mile wide (96-km) ocean channel between the South Shetland Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula, minor quakes – including a stronger shake of magnitude 6 – were observed.

Near the strait, multiple tectonic plates and microplates meet, resulting in periodic rumbling, however, according to the center, the past three months have been unusual.

“Most of the seismicity is concentrated at the beginning of the sequence, mainly during the month of September, with more than a thousand earthquakes a day,” the center said.

The shakes have become so regular that the strait itself is now expanding 15 cm (6 inches) a year, once increasing in width at a rate of about 7 or 8 mm (0.30 inch) a year, the center said.

“It’s a 20-fold increase … which suggests that right this minute … the Shetland Islands are separating more quickly from the Antarctic peninsula,” said Sergio Barrientos, the center’s director.

The peninsula is one of Earth’s fastest-warming areas, and scientists closely track the effect of the changing climate on its icebergs and glaciers.
But the University of Santiago climate scientist Raul Cordero said it was not yet clear how the tremors could impact the ice in the area.

“There’s no evidence that this kind of seismic activity … has significant effects on the stability of polar ice caps,” Cordero told Reuters.

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