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Could melting ice caps change the Earth’s wobble?

If global warming succeeds in melting the ice caps, will the distribution of water on the Earth’s surface cause a small change of the earth’s axis or a wobble that could cause additional climate changes?
Rowena Offen from Berkshire (Age 45-54)


One Response

  1. Yes, you’re correct in thinking that as ice is redistributed from the poles and ‘spread’ over the oceans this changes the Earth’s rotation ever so slightly.
    One analogy is with a pirouetting ice skater – as they stand up straight they spin fast but as they stick their arms/legs out then they slow down. So if the Earth is like a skater then putting ice on the poles causes us to spin faster, and putting water in the oceans causes us to spin slower.
    Its very difficult to detect because the effect is so small but we can measure the same effect from the end of the last ice age. As the great ice sheets over North America, Asia and Europe shrank thousands of years ago the Earth’s rotation slowed down. One effect of this is that astronomical events such as eclipses apparently occur a little further apart than they should theoretically, because the Earth’s rotation has slowed. This has been noted by astronomers but only amounts to about an hour every thousand years, so its not a big effect.

    The effects of today’s ice sheet melting on Earth’s rotation probably won’t be big enough to cause any significant change in climate.

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