The Earth’s Rotation Slows Down: How Climate Change Could Change the Way We Measure Time

Study suggests that timekeeping may be impacted by climate change

In recent years, research has indicated that climate change is having an impact on the Earth’s rotation speed, which could potentially have implications for how we measure time. The melting of Greenland and Antarctica’s ice caps is causing additional water to be added to the world’s oceans, resulting in a redistribution of mass. This redistribution is slowing down the Earth’s rotation slightly, although it is still spinning faster than in previous eras.

The study suggests that global timekeepers may need to adjust our clocks by subtracting a second earlier than previously anticipated. Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), which is used worldwide to regulate clocks, relies on the Earth’s rotation as its basis. However, since the Earth’s rotation rate is not constant, occasional adjustments are needed to keep our timekeeping accurate.

Since the 1970s, approximately 27 seconds known as leap seconds have been added to our clocks to align our timekeeping with the Earth’s rotation. However, this study suggests that without the accelerated melting of polar ice caps, a “negative leap second” – subtracting a second from world clocks – would have been necessary by 2026.

According to Duncan Agnew, author of the study, these changes to the Earth’s rotation speed are significant and unprecedented. The research highlights how climate change can affect various aspects of our planet and something as fundamental as the Earth’s rotation and timekeeping.

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