The melting of glaciers as a result of climate change has knocked the Earth off its axis, according to new research.
The North and South poles have moved about 13 feet since 1980 – with melting glaciers accounting for most of the shift since the 1990s, according to a study published in Geophysical Research Letters.
Also contributing to the shift were natural factors, including ocean currents, and the pumping of groundwater, according to the study in the American Geophysical Union’s journal.
“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 said.
“This new finding indicates that a close relationship existed between polar motion and climate change in the past,” it added.
The project, which was funded by the Chinese government, included data from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellites, which have tracked polar drift since 2002.
Shanshan Deng of the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research at the Chinese Academy of Sciences led the team.
The researchers said they discovered that poles moved from southward to eastward in the mid-1990s — and that the speed of the drift between 1995 to 2020 was upward of 17 times faster than it was between 1981 and 1995.
The satellites had been used to link glacial melting to pole movements in 2005 and 2012, but Deng’s research extended the ties to before the satellites’ launch, showing human activities have been shifting them since the 1990s, The Guardian reported.
Vincent Humphrey, from the University of Zurich in Switzerland, who was not involved in the new research, told the news outlet that it showed how human activities have redistributed massive amounts of water around the globe.
“It tells you how strong this mass change is – it’s so big that it can change the axis of the Earth,” he said, adding that the movement of the axis is not large enough to affect daily life.
It could change the length of a day, but only by milliseconds, he said.
President Joe Biden has emphasized the need to tackle climate change, saying last week that the US “has resolved to take action” on the issue, Newsweek reported.
“The signs are unmistakable, the science is undeniable and the cost of inaction keeps mounting,” he said.