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The Earth's axis has shifted, exacerbating climate change.  Where it will be cold

The Earth's axis has shifted, exacerbating climate change. Where it will be cold

If the Earth's axis shifted, some areas would be found, albeit a little farther to the north, and others to the south. So, those to the north will receive less solar radiation, while those to the south will receive less solar radiation than they currently do. This translates into a more favorable climate condition: cool for those heading north and warm for those heading south.

But let's see in detail what is happening and what science says about it.

Our planet Earth, along with the other members of the solar system, obeys the rules of celestial mechanics. During its cosmic journey, it performs two main activities: rotating around its axis, and revolving around the sun. The first activity is manifested in the alternation of day and night, while the second is manifested in the change of seasons. However, these movements are not constant, because there are many factors, often imperceptible, that constantly modify them.

The Earth's rotation, influenced by the distribution of the planet's mass, has undergone significant changes due to the melting of the polar ice caps and the consequent reorganization of water masses on the Earth's surface. This phenomenon is known as pole drift. A study by Shanshan Ding, Suxia Liu, Liguang Jiang, and Peter Bauer Gutwein, published in Geophysical Research Lettersstudied the apparent polar drift that characterized the 1990s, a time when Earth observation was not as advanced as it is today.

It is important not to confuse polar drift with changes in magnetic poles and the process of magnetic field reversal.

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The term “Arctic” can take on different meanings. The geographic North Pole, also known as “true north,” is located at 90 degrees north latitude, where all longitude lines converge. This was the goal of explorers in the early twentieth century. Another lesser-known point is the instantaneous North Pole, where the Earth's rotation axis intersects the planet's surface. This point is not fixed, and describes an irregular circular path due to the Chandler oscillation, which was discovered more than a century ago by the American astronomer Seth Carlo Chandler. This wobble is a free wobble with a duration of about 14 months, influenced by the irregular shape of the Earth.

The magnetic north pole, along with its southern counterpart, is defined by the positions where the Earth's magnetic field flow lines are perpendicular to the Earth. These lines emerge from electrical currents generated in the Earth's core of iron and nickel. Oddly enough, the magnetic north pole is actually the magnetic south pole in physical terms, but this distinction is useful for compass orientation.

In addition, there are geomagnetic poles, which are traditional definitions based on the physical model of the Earth's magnetic dipole. In this model, the north pole coincides with the physical south magnetic pole. There is also a city in Alaska called the North Pole, but it is not close to either of the mentioned poles.

The Earth, like a spinning top, rotates around an imperfect axis, which oscillates and moves for various reasons, causing the pole to drift instantaneously. Years ago, NASA identified three main factors affecting the Earth's axis oscillation: loss of water mass in Greenland, glacial isostatic regulation, and mantle convection. Glacial isostatic adaptation is an ongoing process since the end of the last ice age, when heavy glaciers compressed the Earth's surface. As they disappear, the Earth slowly returns to its original form.

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The biggest impact on polar drift comes from the melting of ice in Greenland. Geometrically, the location of the glaciers in Greenland and Patagonia, about 45 degrees from their poles, means that their melting greatly affects the shift of the Earth's rotation axis.

A recent study used data from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE), a joint NASA-DLR mission, to analyze the shift of the Earth's axis since the beginning of the 21st century. The results showed that climate change and melting ice contributed significantly to this phenomenon. The Arctic began moving eastward in 2005, primarily due to rapid ice loss in Greenland.

The research team focused on changes recorded in the mid-1990s, and observed a significant increase in the rate of polar drift from 1995 to 2020. They used historical data and simulations to study the past, and found that the eastward drift was in large part due to the loss of water from the polar regions.

The rapid melting of polar ice is one of the most visible signs of climate change. For example, a giant iceberg, A-76, recently broke off from Antarctica. According to Ding, rapid melting of ice during global warming may have been the main reason for the change in the direction of polar drift in the 1990s.

However, not all of the change can be attributed to melting ice. Human activity, such as storing and pumping ground water, also has a significant impact on erosion. For example, huge amounts of water are pumped from the ground for agricultural purposes in India, California and North Texas. These movements affect polar drift more than the same amount of water at higher latitudes.

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This study now allows researchers to explore the historical distribution of Earth's water and better understand human impact on our planet. Vincent Humphrey, a climate scientist not involved in the research, noted that although these changes do not directly affect daily life, they illustrate the scale of global change on Earth: a change so large that it could shift the Earth's axis.

But what exactly changed such a dramatic change in the Earth's axis? This aspect is not defined at the moment, or at least we do not have enough data to write about it here. There are some documents that need to be confirmed in scientific publications.