- Each year, as the globe continues to warm, hundreds of billions of tons of ice melt into the Earth’s oceans.
- Since 1980, the location of both poles has moved roughly 13 feet.
- The movement of the Earth’s axis is not large enough to affect daily life.
Climate change is likely the cause of a recent shift in the Earth’s axis of rotation, a new study suggests.
Melting glaciers around the world – due to rising atmospheric temperatures from the burning of fossil fuels – redistributed enough water to cause the location of the North and South Poles to move eastward since the mid-1990s.
The locations of the poles aren’t fixed, unchanging locations on the Earth. The way that water moves around the planet’s surface is one factor that causes the two poles to drift around, the study said.
Each year, as the globe continues to warm, hundreds of billions of tons of ice melt into the Earth’s oceans.
“The faster ice melting under global warming was the most likely cause of the directional change of the polar drift in the 1990s,” said study co-author Shanshan Deng, a researcher at the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, in a statement.
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Since 1980, the location of both poles has moved roughly 13 feet.
In addition to melting glaciers, the pumping of groundwater from under land has also had an impact on the shift in the Earth’s axis, the study said.
In the past, only natural factors such as ocean currents and the convection of hot rock in the deep Earth contributed to the drifting position of the poles, the Guardian said.
Climate scientist Vincent Humphrey, from the University of Zurich, Switzerland, who was not involved in the new research, said the Earth spins around its axis like a top. If the weight of a top is moved around, the spinning top would start to lean and wobble as its rotational axis changes. The same thing happens to the Earth as weight is shifted from one area to the other.
Humphrey told the Guardian that this “tells you how strong this mass change is – it’s so big that it can change the axis of the Earth.”
However, the movement of the Earth’s axis is not large enough to affect daily life, he added: It could change the length of a day, but only by milliseconds.
The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal Geophysical Research Letters, a publication of the American Geophysical Union.