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Study finds that humans actually changed the Earth’s tilt in the past 30 years

Published Jun 19th, 2023 9:08PM EDT
Earth in space
Image: Tryfonov / Adobe

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The Earth’s tilt changed by nearly 80 centimeters (31.5 inches) between 1993 and 2010, and humanity is to blame, a new study claims. The new study is published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, and according to the researchers behind it, humans have pumped 2,150 gigatons of groundwater from the planet, causing its tilt to change.

While the information from the study is certainly concerning and does raise more questions about how humanity is contributing to climate change issues, the estimate that the researchers have made is also very difficult to validate. One way that we could validate these findings lies with what we call the Earth’s rotational pole.

This point is what the planet rotates around, and that point moves as the process, which is called polar motion, continues. Overall, scientists say that the Earth’s rotational pole can move based on the Earth’s crust. Additionally, the distribution of water on our planet can affect how the mass of the Earth’s crust is distributed, thereby playing a part in how the Earth’s tilt is determined.

Illustration showing the axial tilt of the EarthImage source: blueringmedia / Adobe

One easy way to think about it is to think of adding a very tiny bit of weight to a spinning top. That weight then changes how the top spins. In this instance, Earth is the top, and the weight we’re messing with is the groundwater level. As such, the Earth spins a bit differently depending on how we move its water around.

According to scientists, though, this rotational pole actually changes a lot as it is. However, the movement and changes to the distribution of groundwater seem to be having the largest impact on the so-called drift of the rotational pole. As such, some researchers are concerned about what these movements could mean for the Earth’s tilt going forward.

Further, it’s likely that these changes to the distribution of the Earth’s groundwater could also be attributed to global sea levels rising, a concern that we have only seen growing in recent years. The research also shows that attempts to slow the groundwater depletion rates could alter the changes in the Earth’s tilt drifting so much, too, but only if the conservation attempts are sustained for several decades.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.