If the ice caps in the North and South Poles continue to melt, our days could become longer than 24 hours.
That’s because the Earth will eventually spin more slowly in the universe thanks to the increased sea levels at its axis, a glaciologist has revealed.
In an interview with pop science website Inverse, Earth science expert Mathieu Morlighem spoke about how our planet might look in 2021 after a century of climate change has taken its toll.
The bad news is about 40% of the world’s population will be directly affected by sea level rise as they live in coastal areas.
“Entire nations are going to disappear,” he explained.
“Pacific islands, they’re gone. Who is going to take care of these people? They need to have a place to live, and they have a culture.”
As the oceans creep inland, saltwater will infiltrate and contaminate some freshwater reserves and cause further problems for humans scrambling away from the shore.
Prof Morlighem also referenced the Gulf Stream, an enormous circulation system which moves Caribbean water to the Arctic, where it cools and moves back south.
Oceanic circulation may slow down if too much freshwater is coming into the Arctic, resulting in the “shutdown” of the Gulf Stream — and that’s bad news for Europe.
“Europe will be as cold as Montreal,” he explained.
“Temperatures in Europe would plummet and there would be a sort of mini Ice Age.”
So the days may become a lot colder, but could they also get longer? Quite possibly, according to Prof Morlighem.
“One other interesting effect is if you melt the ice, that will affect the Earth’s rotation. It may actually change how long a day is,” he said.
“The ice sheets are close to the axis of rotation of the Earth — they are around the poles. You melt this ice, and where this water will go is around the Earth, so further away from the axis of rotation.
“So the Earth is going to spin at a slower rate. It’s hard to quantify, but probably 10, 20 seconds longer for a day.”
Freezing temperatures, longer days and the vanishing of entire nations underwater — it all sounds a bit apocalyptic. But the good news is it will take “thousands and thousands of years” for all the polar ice caps to melt completely.
“The world isn’t going to end in 2121,” Prof Morlighem said.
“We think that if Greenland were to melt today, sea level would rise globally by 7.4 meters, and Antarctica is another 58 meters. So that’s a total of 65.4 meters, which is 215 feet.
“And it’s not going to be uniformly distributed around the globe because of gravitational attraction. We’ll have sea level fall around Greenland and Antarctica, but rise everywhere else.”