Climate change is causing days to get longer by slowing down the Earth - Natural History Museum

As the polar ice caps melt, the speed of the Earth’s rotation is slowing down, making days slightly longer than they might otherwise be.

When it comes to climate change, it’s all a matter of time.

Rising temperatures are affecting many aspects of our planet through changing weather patterns, animal migrations and plant flowering to name but a few. A new study suggests that climate change is also having an unappreciated impact – it influences how we measure time.

As the polar ice caps melt, the resulting sea level rise is slowing down the Earth’s spin ever so slightly. While the extra fractions of a second may not affect us in our daily lives, their buildup could cause problems for navigation and communication technology where timing is everything.

Professor Duncan Agnew, from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, is the author of a Nature paper describing this phenomenon.

“Imagine a skater spinning on the ice,” Duncan says. “If they hold their arms out, their spinning is slower, but if they bring them into their body, then they speed up. This demonstrates the conservation of angular momentum, a principle which applies to all spinning objects including the Earth. As polar ice melts, the water spreads out over the whole ocean, causing the same effect as the skater spreading their arms out – the Earth slows down. More rapid melting would slow the Earth more rapidly, opposing the speedup that has been seen in recent years.”

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Posted On: 28/03/2024

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