Melting ice caps may change how we track time

Melting ice caps may change how we track time

/ 11:52 AM April 02, 2024

What are some of the things we believe are constant? Most may answer that the sun will rise and set. After all, that’s how we track time worldwide.

However, timekeeping will soon change as the Earth has been rotating faster for decades. Believe it or not, it’s because of melting ice caps!

READ: Arctic ice may release methane soon


A study from the University of California San Diego found that as arctic and antarctic ice melts, it changes where the Earth’s mass is concentrated. As a result, the phenomenon speeds up the planet’s rotation, allowing days to pass sooner than 24 hours. 


How do ice caps affect the length of a day?

CNBC reports the latest research from Duncan Agnew, a geophysicist from the UCSD’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography. 

He compared the phenomenon to a figure skater twirling on ice. “If you have a skater who starts spinning, if she lowers her arms or stretches out her legs, she will slow down,” he explained.

“But if a skater’s arms are drawn inward, the skater will twirl faster. Similarly, melting ice caps turn into water, which adds more mass around the equator.

Thomas Herring, a professor of geophysics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was not involved in the study but shared his thoughts on the results:

“What you’re doing with the ice melt is you’re taking water that’s frozen solid in places like Antarctica and Greenland, and that frozen water is melting, and you move the fluids to other places on the planet.”

READ: ‘Very worried’: Scientists fret as Antarctic sea ice dwindles


Surprisingly, that means humanity changed the force that lets the Earth rotate, which scholars believed to be impossible for millennia.

More importantly, this phenomenon and other factors have been causing our planet to spin faster for decades. 

We measure days based on our planet’s rotation. If it speeds up, that means our clocks will be ahead of that movement, making our time tracking inaccurate.

That is why Agnew believes we must implement a “negative leap second” from clocks worldwide by 2029.

However, it is not as simple as winding clocks back a second. Nowadays, essential aspects of our world, from stock exchanges to supply chain management, rely on digital systems to track time.

Nobody ever thought the Earth would spin faster, so we’ve never programmed our devices to move their clocks back. 

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As a result, implementing the “negative leap second” can have unprecedented impacts on global systems.

TOPICS: ice melt, Time
TAGS: ice melt, Time

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