The climate crisis may have shifted the Earth’s axis

26 Apr 2021

Image: © MaryCatalan/

According to a new study, glacial melting due to global heating is likely to be responsible for the movement of the north and south poles.

New research suggests the impacts of the climate crisis are so vast that they have the ability to literally change the axis of the Earth.

According to a study published in the American Geophysical Union’s journal, Geophysical Research Letters, glacial melting due to global heating is likely the cause of a shift in the movement of the poles that occurred in the 1990s.

Movement of the north and south poles isn’t unusual. The Earth’s axis is always moving due a number of factors, including the way water is distributed on Earth’s surface.

However, scientists now believe that the speed at which glaciers are melting due to the climate crisis plays a significant role in the shift of the Earth’s poles. More specifically, they have suggested it caused the direction of polar wander to turn and accelerate eastward during the mid-1990s.

“The faster ice melting under global warming was the most likely cause of the directional change of the polar drift in the 1990s,” said Shanshan Deng, a researcher at the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research and an author of the new study.

The scientists found the direction of polar drift shifted from southward to eastward in 1995 and that the average speed of drift from 1995 to 2020 was 17 times faster than from 1981 to 1995.

They said the acceleration of ice melting over major glacial areas was the main driver in the polar drift after the 1990s. This indicates that a close relationship existed between polar motion and a changing climate in the past.

Vincent Humphrey, a climate scientist at the University of Zurich who was not involved in this research, said the new study is an interesting piece of evidence that reveals how much direct human activity can have an impact on changes to the mass of water on land.

“It tells you how strong this mass change is – it’s so big that it can change the axis of the Earth,” he said.

The study follows a “dire warning” from the International Energy Agency last week, which predicted that global CO2 emissions will rise by nearly 5pc in 2021, in what would be the second-largest annual increase in history.

Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic