A shift in seconds: How global warming is set to change world clocks – Times of India


NEW DELHI: In an unprecedented turn of events, a new study reveals that the melting of polar ice, influenced by global warming, is altering Earth’s rotation and, consequently, how we measure time. This adjustment could lead to the world’s clocks losing a second within the next few years, a direct result of human activity.
According to the report, the Earth’s rotation, which dictates the hours and minutes of our day, is not constant.Factors such as changes on Earth’s surface and activity in its molten core can cause slight variations. These variations sometimes necessitate the adjustment of the world’s timekeeping systems by a leap second. While the addition of seconds has been a common practice to align with Earth’s slowing rotation, the current acceleration in rotation speed signifies that, for the first time, a second will need to be subtracted, a CNN report said.
Patrizia Tavella, from the International Bureau of Weights and Measures in France, highlighted the novelty and potential complications of this adjustment, saying, “A negative leap second has never been added or tested, so the problems it could create are without precedent.”
The study, published in the journal Nature, attributes the delay of this leap second, from 2026 to 2029, to the effects of global warming. The melting polar ice is causing a redistribution of mass, with meltwater moving from the poles towards the equator, further slowing the Earth’s rotation. Duncan Agnew, a professor of geophysics at the University of California San Diego and author of the study, emphasized, “Part of figuring out what is going to happen in global timekeeping … is dependent on understanding what is happening with the global warming effect.”
Despite the significant impact of polar ice melt on Earth’s rotation, the report also points to processes within the Earth’s core as a contributing factor to the overall acceleration of the planet’s rotation. The core’s independent spin affects the rotation of the Earth’s solid outer shell. Agnew explains, “If the core slows down, the solid shell speeds up to maintain momentum,” leading to the current situation where a second may need to be subtracted from global timekeeping systems, the CNN report said.
This phenomenon not only has implications for our understanding of Earth’s geophysical processes but also poses practical challenges for computing systems reliant on precise timekeeping, such as those used in stock exchanges.
Ted Scambos, a glaciologist at the University of Colorado Boulder, remarked on the significance of these findings, emphasizing that the core’s changes are now surpassing the effects of polar ice loss. “It’s a ‘yikes’ moment for some computer applications,” he said, highlighting the complexity of adjusting to these changes.
This study underscores the profound ways in which human-induced climate change is affecting our planet, extending even to the fundamental aspect of time itself. Agnew hopes the findings will help people grasp the magnitude of global warming’s impact, stating, “Being able to say so much ice has melted that it’s actually changed the rotation of the Earth by a measurable amount, I think gives you the sense, OK, this is a big deal.”


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