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The Surprising Impact of Groundwater Extraction on Earths Tilt

The Surprising Impact of Groundwater Extraction on Earth’s Tilt


In a remarkable study published in the Geophysical Research Letters journal, scientists have discovered that human activities, specifically excessive groundwater extraction, have caused the Earth’s tilt to shift. Over the past two decades, the massive amount of water pumped out of the ground for drinking and farming has led to a significant redistribution of mass, resulting in the Earth’s tilt moving 31.5 inches towards the east, closer to Iceland. This fascinating phenomenon has shed light on the intricate relationship between human actions and the delicate balance of our planet.

Groundwater Extraction and Earth’s Tilt:

The study reveals that the north-south axis of the Earth has been gradually tilting at a rate of approximately 1.7 inches per year. The act of pumping water from beneath the Earth’s surface disrupts the equilibrium, causing a redistribution of mass. This, in turn, affects the Earth’s rotation, similar to the way a spinning top is affected when weight is added or removed. Prof Ki-Weon Seo, the lead researcher from Seoul National University, emphasizes the significance of groundwater redistribution as the largest contributor to the drift of the rotational pole among climate-related causes.

Implications for Earth Systems:

The impact of human activities on Earth systems should not be underestimated. The study’s findings not only help explain the unexplained cause of rotational pole drift but also highlight the surprising connection between groundwater extraction and sea-level rise. Between 1993 and 2010, an astonishing 2,150 gigatons of groundwater were extracted from aquifers worldwide, equivalent to filling Africa’s Lake Victoria. This realization should serve as a wake-up call for people to recognize and address their role in influencing Earth’s delicate balance.

The Role of Groundwater Extraction:

While the Earth’s rotation is primarily influenced by convection movements in the molten rock deep beneath the surface, the study reveals that groundwater removal ranks as the second largest contributor. This groundbreaking discovery builds upon previous research conducted by Surendra Adhikari of Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who emphasized the significant impact of water redistribution on the rotational drift. The study’s models confirmed that the observed polar drift could only be accurately replicated when the 2,150 gigatons of groundwater redistribution was taken into account.

Regional Factors and Conservation Approaches:

The location of groundwater extraction also plays a crucial role in its influence on polar drift. The researchers found that redistributing water from mid-latitudes, such as western North America and northwestern India, had a more substantial impact on the rotational pole’s movement. This discovery opens up the possibility of altering the drift through sustained conservation approaches to slow groundwater depletion in those regions. However, such efforts would need to be maintained for decades to produce significant results.

Long-Term Implications:

While the changes in polar drift caused by groundwater extraction do not affect the shifting of seasons on a yearly basis, they could have long-term implications for climate patterns when viewed on geologic time scales. The scientists involved in the study plan to expand their investigation into previous decades to understand the extent of groundwater extraction’s impact on Earth’s rotation over a more extended period.


The study’s findings offer a fascinating glimpse into the intricate relationship between human actions and the Earth’s delicate balance. Excessive groundwater extraction has not only caused the planet to tilt but has also contributed significantly to sea-level rise. It serves as a reminder that our activities can have far-reaching consequences for Earth systems. Understanding these connections is crucial for developing sustainable practices and preserving the equilibrium of our planet for future generations. As we delve further into the impact of groundwater extraction on Earth’s rotation, we gain valuable insights into our role in shaping the world we inhabit.

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