While climate change has deep rooting implications, a new study confirms that climate change is impacting a shift in the Earth’s axis. Published in Geophysical Research Letters last month, this study is built on previous findings that show how the melting of glaciers and groundwater depletion has a significant change in the environment.
The research used satellites that track gravity to track the“polar drift.” Known as GRACE and GRACE-FO the satellites used for the study were employed to measure Earth’s shifting mass. Associated with the disappearing ice in Antarctica and the drought that led to groundwater depletion in California in the mid-2010s, these satellites have previously detected gravitational changes. The data also gives an insight into how these changes in gravity, in turn, impact the poles.
“The accelerated terrestrial water storage decline resulting from glacial ice melting is thus the main driver of the rapid polar drift toward the east after the 1990s," the study read.
"This new finding indicates that a close relationship existed between polar motion and climate change in the past."
While polar drift does happen naturally with the Earth’s axis is slowly shifting, the recent decades have witnessed an acceleration in the movement.
Gizmodo reported, “The poles are now moving at nearly 17 times the rate they were in 1981, a fairly remarkable speed-up. What’s even more remarkable, though, is that poles actually began moving in a new direction quite suddenly in 2000, at a rapid clip.”
The data from the same satellite data in previous research was used to observe the speed-up and change of gear that resulted in the ice loss in Greenland and West Antarctica as well as groundwater pumping. Furthermore, this new study also incorporates records from the 1990s and explores some of the year-to-year wobbles in more detail. The findings point to changes in groundwater use in specific regions as the source of some of those differences.
“Using the GRACE data (for the period 2002-2015) we showed that such interannual signals (as these authors pointed out: kinks at 2005 and 2012) can be explained by the terrestrial water storage,” Surendra Adhikari, a scientist at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory who led the 2016 research, said in an email.
“The new paper reinforces the statement by also showing that another kink in the polar motion data (at 1995) is also explained by total water storage variability, especially by the on-set of accelerated Greenland ice mass loss and depletion of water storage in the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent.”
Commenting on the study, Vincent Humphrey, from the University of Zurich, said that it showed how human activities have redistributed huge amounts of water.
"It tells you how strong this mass change is – it's so big that it can change the axis of the Earth," told The Guardian.
Climate change is a phenomenon that poses major threats in the form of intense heat waves, ocean acidification, and the sixth mass extinction. This implies that the change in the polar movement is not an extremely worrying condition but it is just a reminder that humans have altered the planet in detrimental ways. Thus, we need to curb our ways and make amends to ensure that our future does not face the brunt of the worsening climate change