Humans Are Literally Moving Earth on Its Axis

The poles are the imaginary line of the Earth’s axis which passes through the center of the planet’s crust. Image, Wikimedia Commons

By Connor Korrell, age 12

Scientists recently discovered that the Earth is shifting eastward at a rate of 1.7 inches every year. The study, which was published in June in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, suggests that the shift is due to years of groundwater extraction and relocation.

When the Earth spins, its rotational poles naturally move a little. This can be the result of the ocean’s currents, the melting of glaciers, artificial reservoirs and atmospheric winds. While some movement is normal, the scientists noticed that the shift was inexplicably moving too far in one direction.

There were 2,150 gigatons of water extracted from below the Earth’s surface between 1993 and 2010, the equivalent to 860 million Olympic swimming pools. During this time period, the researchers estimate that the Earth has shifted a “significant” 31 inches. The removal of groundwater affects how mass is distributed across the planet. “Like adding a tiny bit of weight to a spinning top,” explained the researchers, “the Earth spins a little differently as water is moved around.”

Places such as northeastern America and northwestern India are the biggest groundwater extractors, around 70% of which is used for crops and the rest for things like plumbing, firefighting efforts and cattle. Scientists believe that much of this groundwater eventually ends up in the ocean, meaning it is a significant contributor to rising sea-levels.

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