Humans are pumping out so much groundwater that the North Pole moves by 4.36 centimetres yearly. Researchers at Seoul National University in South Korea have discovered this. This makes it the second most crucial factor in shifting the Earth’s axis.
The fact that mass is distributed on the Earth and thus changes its inclination is not peculiar. One main reason for this is mass shifts in the Earth’s interior, the oceans and the atmosphere. Natural and climate catastrophes such as earthquakes or glacial melt also cause small but measurable changes in how fast the Earth rotates and where its axis of rotation lies.
78.48 centimetres missing from the pole shift
But that didn’t explain why the North Pole shifted 80 centimetres between 1993 and 2010, according to study leader Ki-Weon Seo. Currently, there is a pole migration to the east towards Iceland. Without including the groundwater, however, it would have to migrate 7 centimetres per year towards Greenland, i.e. westwards. In total, 78.48 centimetres are missing during the observation period.
In a simulation, Seo’s team calculated the 2,150 gigatonnes of groundwater estimated to have been pumped out during this time. The result almost precisely added the missing value to the polar migration. “Among the climate-related causes, the redistribution of groundwater has the greatest influence on the shift of the rotation pole,” Seo said.
North America and India have the most significant influence
The position where the water is pumped out is crucial. If water is pumped out in the middle latitudes, this has the most significant effect on the rotation axis. They say most waters was redistributed in North America and India during the observation
Since the groundwater reaches the oceans after pumping, the sea level rose by 6.24 millimetres during the measurement period. The study thus not only confirms that polar migration is related to groundwater and that the estimated value of 2,150 gigatonnes of redistributed water is correct. The study results have been published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
Pole moves several metres a year.
But this is no reason to panic, Surendra Adhikari from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory explains in a statement. In 2016, he proved with a study that the water on our planet can contribute to the shifting of the Earth’s axis. The rotation pole fluctuates by several metres each year, so he sees no immediate danger that the seasons could shift. In the long run, it could affect the climate, but to compensate for this, groundwater production in the respective areas would have to be stopped for decades, Adhikari said.
Next, the researchers plan to investigate how water storage on the continents has changed. Due to the climate catastrophe, more water evaporates, while there is more rainfall and flooding. So the water table is rising in some places, while elsewhere, it is falling. This also affects the inclination of the Earth.
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