New research, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, has revealed that massive glacial melting has resulted in a shift of the Earth’s axis. The scientists behind the study said that drastic changes in glaciers since the 1990s have impacted Earth’s mass, causing the axis to move. This research shows just how far-reaching the impacts of the climate crisis can be.
Naturally, the factors that affect the balance of the Earth on its axis depend on the distribution of the planet’s mass. The mass itself is impacted by ocean currents, convection of hot rock under the Earth’s surface and freezing of ocean waters. However, the shift in global climate has made these natural factors unbalanced. As such, the melting of billions of tons of ice into the oceans annually has resulted in an axis shift.
The polar drift shifted from southward to eastward from 1995, according to the study. Further, the average speed for drift increased 17 times between 1995 and 2020 as compared to 1981 to 1995. With these changes, the position of the Earth’s poles has drifted by 4 meters.
“The accelerated decline [in water stored on land] resulting from glacial ice melting is the main driver of the rapid polar drift after the 1990s,” the scientists explained.
The study, led by Shanshan Deng of the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, has also shed light on excessive extraction of groundwater. More than 18 trillion metric tons of water have been extracted from underground reservoirs in the past 50 years, significantly affecting the Earth’s mass.
Vincent Humphrey, of the University of Zurich, Switzerland, commented that the study shows just how devastating human activities can be on our planet.
“It tells you how strong this mass change is — it’s so big that it can change the axis of the Earth,” Humphrey said.
While the changes might be significant, they do not yet impact daily life. Humphrey said that the change in the position of the axis may slightly affect the length of the day by milliseconds. Still, the new research goes to show how much our activities and emissions are impacting this planet.
Image via Max Kukurudziak