It’s a fundamental requirement for all life on Earth, but digging for it has a measurable impact on how the planet moves.
The great groundwater odyssey
One of the biggest leaps forward in human history involved being able to dig deep into the ground to access clean water. Then, when the technology arrived to safely transport that groundwater, it allowed populations to grow and thrive even in arid locations.
But a group of researchers at the American Geophysical Union wanted to know what kind of an impact transferring huge amounts of water from one place to another has had on the planet. And their findings are pretty astounding.
Changing the tilt of Earth’s poles
The study’s authors concluded that during the years between 1993 and 2010, enough water was pumped out of the ground and moved elsewhere to move the entire planet’s axis.
Here are some highlights from the research paper:
- The Earth’s tilt moved roughly 31.5 inches to the east during the 17-year period.
- Estimates indicate humans pumped 2,150 gigatons of water in those years.
- That amount of water is equal to nearly a quarter inch of sea level rise.
Although study leader Ki-Weon Seo acknowledged that the planet’s “rotational pole actually changes a lot,” it seems clear from the study that transporting groundwater is one significant cause.
Figuring out what it all means
Experts say there’s no evidence to indicate that these pole shifts are significant enough to alter the seasons on the planet. But on a longer-term scale, they warn that it could contribute to global warming.
Seo said he’s “glad to find the unexplained cause of the rotation pole drift” but at the same time “concerned and surprised to see that pumping groundwater is another source of sea-level rise.”