Warming could cause tilt in Earth's axis

As if we didn’t already have enough to worry about….

Earth’s axial tilt (or obliquity) and its relation to the rotation axis and plane of orbit. Image from Wikipedia.

Excerpts from the New Scientist

Warming oceans could cause Earth’s axis to tilt in the coming century, a new study suggests. The effect was previously thought to be negligible, but researchers now say the shift will be large enough that it should be taken into account when interpreting how the Earth wobbles.

The Earth spins on an axis that is tilted some 23.5° from the vertical. But this position is far from constant – the planet’s axis is constantly shifting in response to changes in the distribution of mass around the Earth. “The Earth is like a spinning top, and if you put more mass on one side or other, the axis of rotation is going to shift slightly,” says Felix Landerer of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

The influx of fresh water from shrinking ice sheets also causes the planet to pitch over. Landerer and colleagues estimate that the melting of Greenland’s ice is already causing Earth’s axis to tilt at an annual rate of about 2.6 centimetres – and that rate may increase significantly in the coming years.

Now, they calculate that oceans warmed by the rise in greenhouse gases can also cause the Earth to tilt – a conclusion that runs counter to older models, which suggested that ocean expansion would not create a large shift in the distribution of the Earth’s mass.

The team found that as the oceans warm and expand, more water will be pushed up and onto the Earth’s shallower ocean shelves. Over the next century, the subtle effect is expected to cause the northern pole of Earth’s spin axis to shift by roughly 1.5 centimetres per year in the direction of Alaska and Hawaii.

The effect is relatively small. “The pole’s not going to drift away in a crazy manner,” Landerer notes, adding that it shouldn’t induce any unfortunate feedback in Earth’s climate.

And climate change can also affect the Earth’s spin. Previously, Landerer and colleagues showed that global warming would cause Earth’s mass to be redistributed towards higher latitudes.

Journal reference: Geophysical Research Letters (in press)

full story here


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“The Earth is like a spinning top, and if you put more mass on one side or other, the axis of rotation is going to shift slightly”. So if China and India keep adding more skyscapers, more cars and trucks, for their nearly 2.5 billion combined population, this will tilt the Earth’s mass towards Asia?


Of course tectonics has nothing to do with this. Funny how these dramatic predictions fail to be replicated in the geologic past. In less than 100 years 6.5 billion humans can change the tilt of the planet! They conviently forget that bacteria alone out masses them on this planet by about a factor of 10.


Pure alarmist HEADLINE
The effect is relatively small. “The pole’s not going to drift away in a crazy manner,” Landerer notes, adding that it shouldn’t induce any unfortunate feedback in Earth’s climate.
All part of the pre-Copenhagen agenda



Patrick Davis

What about continental drift, growing the Atlantice and shrinking the Pacific? What about tectonic plate action, shifting land masses around, for example Australia is now slightly further north than it was 150 years ago? What about the growth in the distance between the Earth and the Moon? All miniscule changes, but what effects? Who knows!
This is all mind bogglingly silly IMO…Copenhagen is still a long way away plenty of time for more disaster “studies”.
And when the polls shift polarity….
Reply: Was that a really really clever pun, or just an accidental spelling Malaprop? I’m thinking the latter, but it is still brilliant. ~ charles the moderator

John Peter

So what movements of a similar nature, but in the opposite direction, during the Maunder and Dalton minima? Presumably there were similar type movements when the Vikings inhabited Greenland a thousand years ago. We are still here so no need to panic.

Neil O'Rourke

The wobble must have been ferocious when Pangaea was around 🙂

Is this part of the comedy section?


“And climate change can also affect the Earth’s spin. Previously, Landerer and colleagues showed that global warming would cause Earth’s mass to be redistributed towards higher latitudes.”
Could some explain how, please? It seems to me that if because of global warming, the ice setting on top of the continent of Antarctica is melted and presumably equally distributed over the globe, then the total mass is distributed over the lower latitudes, that is, toward the equator. The same with the ice melting from the island of Greenland.
What is the mechanism by which mass is distributed toward the poles instead of away from the poles?


This Warming hysteria is getting really annoying.

I know it is August, and summer in the (for now) Northern hemisphere, but have I missed something? When did The Fortean Times and the window-lickers take over the New Scientist?

Mark Fawcett

Oh goody, another ‘scientific, peer-reviewed paper’ to add to my ever growing pile of junk that I can dig out and amuse my (as yet unborn) grandkids in a few years.
Now if we could just get everyone to only drive east we can change the length of a day…

So how much tilt has already been caused by the warming since the last ice age? “Global sea level rose by about 120 m during the several millennia that followed the end of the last ice age (approximately 21,000 years ago),” (IPCC Report AR4 FAQ.5.1). And is it a problem?

No comment … nuff said ^^


The shifting around of the Pacific Warm Pool also changes Earth’s length of day. Compared to the other factors which change LOD the effect is small, but measurable.
The largest effects on LOD, and the position of the magnetic poles, is caused by shifting of the sub crustal currents which move closer to and further away from the surface and sea bed. These overturn heavy magnetic and radioactive elements which cause the earth’s rotation speed to change slightly. The usual analogy is with a spinning ice skater pulling in their arms and spinning faster as a result of the conservation of angular momentum.
I have found an interesting correlation between changes in Earth’s length of day and the latitudinal motion of the solar system centre of mass in relation to the sun’s equatorial plane.
This implies that the relative positions of the planets affect Earth’s rotation speed.
Among other things.
Reversals in the multidecadal changes in length of day seem to precede changes in the direction of the global temperature record by around 5-7 years. This has been noted by the NAO, an American govt body which plans fisheries policy, since these changes affect fish stocks. Their publications have been frequently linked on this blog recently by contributor ‘nogw’. I came across the NAO docs a year ago while researching the links between LOD, atmospheric angular momentum, and global temperature. AAM contributes around 10% to changes in LOD, the changing sub crustakl currents making up most of the rest, according to NASA’s Dr Richard Gross.
Gross has reconstructed LOD back to 1832, and it is his series I used in my graph above.
Another interesting study is in publication by Ian WIlson of Australia, which uses a Russian reconstruction back to 1650 with which he finds a correlation to the motion of the sun relative to the solar system centre of mass in the orbital plane, perpendicular to the axis I’m studying.
It’s all getting very interesting.

UK Sceptic

I was planning on building a nice big rockery in my garden, dammit! Now I’ll have to dig a pond instead…


Nice tie-in with the current 2012 hysteria turning up. One of the “theories” about the Mayan calender is that t predicts the day when the earth will flip over on it’s axis.

Who is paying for this crap? The American taxpayer.
Glad I’m not one.

not important

Did anyone read Charles Hapgood theory?
Thats old – very old news

These people should write fantasy scripts for the movies.


Mmmm…. wonder why the world did not ‘shift’ during the medieval warm period, or any of the other warmer than now periods.
Oh well add it to the list.


So, what is supposed to happen when too much ice forms at the Poles?
Earth un-tilts. And as it un-tilts, the poles get less summer and grow colder.
Omigosh, another Ice Age cometh !
And it’s all due to Daylight Shortening Time.


Archonix (01:48:30) :
2011 is when the Sea, chastened by the Sun, will no longer pass and the Asiatic part will change. The heat of Venus will harry all of Africa, and Saturn will no longer measure it’s reign.
Wasn’t it Saturn’s motion in conjunction with Jupiter that tugs the Earth’s axial tilt? Fell out of popularity as warming theories explain the known universe.
The Untilting of Earth due to too much ballast created by man in the Northern Hemisphere.
Gotta give Hansen something to do.


Sigh, yet another doomsday scenario… they keep piling up… what’s next? Earth’s orbit is changed just slightly enough by global warming that an asteroid that would have passed us by now collides with us? We’re doomed… in a billion or so years while the Sun is expanding the Earth will fry… so might as well party like it’s 9999! In 2037 the unix time clock roll over will doom us… 2012 is coming… the bus down the street has your name on it… as does the bullet in that gun over there… sigh…
How about we focus on real pollution problems like the Giant Pacific Garbage Patch and try to improve our lives before the end comes however that is?

Alan the Brit

I couldn’t agree more!
I dare say next it will be a change in the Earth’s rate of angular momentum due to AGW that will cause it so spin off at a tangent into outer space, upshot – WAGTD if we don’t mend our evil ways! I await the next scary disaster story with eager anticipation. Anybody any guesses as to what that might be?


Is this change of tilt the reason why I found it difficult to keep upright on the way home from the pub last night?


Redistribution of small amounts of mass on the surface of the earth won’t change the earths’ axis enough to make any difference to clmate or anything else – just another alarmist article from the strongly pro-AGW New Scientist magazine, which I have ceased to subscribe to because of this bias.
Looks like ‘silly season’ is here again.

New Scientist is the para-military wing of GreenPeace.
Anything that New Scientist says should be ignored immediately. They should be called New Pseudo-Scientist, and stacked in shelves alongside National Inquirer and Fortean Times.


Bloody butterflies again….

Paul Maynard

Am I being thick?
Let’s say the “shifts” take place in a 10km layer of the earth’s surface. Isn’t that a rather tiny proportion of the earth’s total mass? Can we detect wobble to that degree of accuracy? Is that enough to really make this effect? Have they compensated for upwards thrust of different areas of the globe?
What was the wobble during the ice age?
Please help before we all die.

>>>Did anyone read Charles Hapgood theory?
>>> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Hapgood
>>>Thats old – very old news
A different theory, as I understand it. Hapgood was trying to say that the Earth’s crust slipped around its core, a bit like a lady suddenly finding the back of her dress was positioned at the front. Simply, the gyroscopic effects on the asymmetric surface masses overcame the frictional forces of the crustal/lithosphere boundary – and the whole thing slipped.
Its actually a nice idea, and first floated by Einstein, I believe. However, it is easily disproven by the straight line of the Hawaii chain of volcanoes. These have been running in a dead-straight line over a sub-terrainian hot-spot for much more than the 10,000 years that Hapgood proposed. Had the Earth’s crust really slipped, there would be a sudden and obvious disconnect in the Hawaiian island chain.


We have to pump the seawater in to Space.

Bob uk

If these ridiculus studies keep regularly appearing even the true believers will begin to suspect they have been mislead by their high priests.


So let me get this straight. warm water moves into areas in the north replacing colder heavier water and the water left behind in the tropics is what? warmer relatively. So what changes, oh the water at then poles becomes lighter. How does the salinity change?
I am not sure why this paper was ever funded but I do hope it wasn’t my tax money!!!

They could have it all arse-about, in that changes in the tilt of the earth may cause climate change.

Atomic Hairdryer

Re: Aileni (01:59:06) :
These people should write fantasy scripts for the movies.

Been done. See Clive Cussler’s Atlantis Found, where a bunch of evil deniers try to tilt the balance. I think he also did one on geomagnetic reversal, else Stel Pavlou has that in Decipher.
I often wonder how much pop culture feeds into pop science. Bruce Schneier coined the phrase ‘security theatre’ for exploiting differences between real risk and perceived risk. IPCC, Hansen, Gore & the media do the same with climate fears and bring us climate theatre. That gets plenty of supporters because the difference between real and perceived risk is where the biggest profits lie.
But that’s life. Geomagnetic reversal seems proven based on studying old magnetic rock, how would prior tilts during previous climatic changes be shown?


I remember reading on an AGW blog 2 or 3 years ago that earthquakes will become more common as the ice melts and reduces the weight on land in the polar regions. Therefore, tsunamis will also become more common.
This concern of course ignores the fact that the land surface is still readjusting since the last ice age. Scotland rising and southern England sinking.

Graeme Rodaughan

…and SPIN will definently affect the reporting of Climate Change…


What this paper conclusivly confirms is that ANY research, when tied to how bad man is, will be funded, without question….

Mark Fawcett

As the Earth warms, there is more hot air. Hot air is less dense – ergo the Earth becomes more buoyant, rises up in the sea of ether and is therefore blown by the solar wind further away from Sol, thus reducing temperatures and the balance of nature is restored.
Now, to find the funding…

Peter Plail

Earth’s circumference approx 40,000 km, so in very rough terms 1degree of tilt requires a 100km shift of the pole, so 2.6 cm represents about 1/4,000,000 degree if my maths is right.
New Scientist must be scraping the barrel for AGW news to publish this!

Lindsay H.

>Landerer and colleagues estimate that the melting of Greenland’s ice is already causing Earth’s axis to tilt at an annual rate of about 2.6 centimetres <
The Earth's axial tilt varies between 22.1° and 24.5° , with a 42,000 year period, and at present, the tilt is decreasing. In addition to this steady decrease, there are also much smaller short term (18.6 years) variations, that is also affected by Sun's gravitation in its depleting angle relative to Earth's, known as nutation. so I'm told!
The Earth currently has an axial tilt of about 23.44° decreasing apparently there has been a drift of 20m westward since 1900 or about 18cm per year
given the natural variability the 2.6 cm is hardly going to be noticed.
but then which pole are we talking of the Geographical pole, the cartographical poles or the difference between them, and what allowance has been made for tectonic shifts.


Science needs a laugh track …

Lindsay H.

It’s all the fault of those damn butterflies.

Dave in Delaware

The warming affect on Earth’s “tilt” and “spin” is relatively small.
However, the amplified “tilt” and “spin” in the media shows a clear “forcing” which may reach a ‘tipping point’ as we approach Copenhagen.

Ron de Haan

It is time to make an inventory of to determine the capacity of an Enclosed Mental Institution for those suffering from Delusional Climatic Phobia and Obsessive Compulsive Climate Related Disorders.
Obligatory straitjackets, steel doors, rooms without windows and Co2 levels of 1500 ppm and are essential for a successful treatment as is an obligatory daily read of WUWT, Climate Depot and Icecap.us
The heavy guarded department will be reserved for the hard cases who believe they have the ability to control earth’s temperature by 2 degrees Celsius and those who believe human kind can’t survive without Global Governance.
Location, preferably Siberia.

Hank Henry

take an obscure fact; cross it with the popular worry, and you have a story for a slow news day.

Goes to show what I’ve been saying for a while, that New Scientist is an ideological publication before anything else, and that ideology is left wing, anti religious and (or therefore?) pro-anthropogenic climate change, the original sin of the new religion.

Robert Wood

The Earth is spinning out of control!!
This is yet another editorial highlight of a once good magazine.