The tilt of Earth's axis of rotation could be caused by irrigation.

The tilt of Earth's axis of rotation could be caused by irrigation.

The tilt of Earth's axis of rotation could be caused by irrigation.

ISRDO Team 26 Jun, 2023 - in Earth sciences
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  • massive amount of water
  • runoff from irrigation
  • simulations
  • North Pole shift
  • geophysical research
  • pole drift
  • glaciers

It is possible that the rotation of the Earth has been altered slightly as a result of the massive amount of water that has been moved from land to sea as a result of runoff from irrigation.

Computer simulations, which the researchers presented in the issue of Geophysical Research Letters published on June 28th, suggest that irrigation alone shifted the North Pole by around 78 centimeters over the period of 1993-2010. If this is the case, then irrigation would contribute to pole drift at a pace that is just slightly lower than the continual rebound of the Earth's surface after the retreat of glaciers since the end of the most recent ice age.

Clark Wilson, a geophysicist at the University of Texas in Austin, is of the opinion that the periodic vacillations that are observed are not the sole mechanism that contributes to the shifting of the pole. According to him, the water that comes from the melting of glaciers all over the planet as well as the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica contribute to a more modest and noncyclic pole drift.

The runoff from irrigation systems also contributes, and to a surprisingly significant degree as well.

In the first study to try to sort out the contributions of different water flows, Wilson and colleagues used computer models to analyze the possible effects of water impoundment behind dams, glacier melt, irrigation, and other factors on pole drift. According to findings from earlier studies, the amount of water that was transferred from land-based aquifers to oceans as a result of irrigation contributed to a rise in global sea level of more than 6 millimeters between 1993 and 2010.

The scientists concluded that the North Pole moved by an average of more than four centimeters every year due to the redistribution of water. Despite the fact that this movement may not appear to be significant, the scientists made this discovery.

When all of the sources of water flow are considered, it appears that the North Pole migrated approximately 1.6 meters closer to the east coast of Greenland over that time period. This involves the removal of water that has melted from the ice sheets that cover Greenland and Antarctica. The research group discovered that, in comparison to the pole's natural movement, irrigation had the greatest influence on its travel toward the east. If the pole hadn't been watered, it would have migrated almost the same distance, but in the other direction—toward the geographical center of Greenland.

In contrast to the other causes, which can change over the course of a year, Wilson believes that the polar drift that is generated by irrigation is both permanent and likely to increase every year.

According to Jay Famiglietti, a hydrologist who works at Arizona State University in Tempe, the conclusions of the study are in line with the findings of earlier studies. Keep in mind that water is heavy, and because of this, the velocity of water will cause the Earth's rotation to slow down.

Irrigation on a massive scale has the ability to change not just the temperature of the surrounding area but also that of the North Pole. It has been demonstrated by researchers that irrigation lowers temperatures and raises humidity in the Central Valley of California. It also increases precipitation in the Four Corners region of the American Southwest and raises the flow volumes of the Colorado River (SN: 1/22/13).


K.-W. Seo et al. Drift of Earth’s pole confirms groundwater depletion as a significant contributor to global sea level rise 1993–2010. Geophysical Research Letters. Vol. 50, June 28, 2023, e2023GL103509. doi: 10.1029/2023GL103509.

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