The Guardian reports that a study by the Chinese Academy of Sciences has found that recent human activity has shifted the Earth’s axis by an unprecedented margin.
The planet’s geographic North and South poles (which are distinct from its magnetic poles) are the points where its axis of rotation intersects the surface.
But they are not fixed.
Changes in how the Earth’s mass is distributed around the planet cause the axis, and therefore the poles, to move.
In the past, only natural factors, such as ocean currents and the convection of hot rock in the deep Earth, contributed to the drifting of the poles.
But the new research shows that since the 1990s, the loss of hundreds of billions of tonnes of ice a year into the oceans — resulting from global warming — has caused the poles to move in new directions.
The scientists found the average speed of drift from 1995 to 2020 was 17 times faster than from 1981 to 1995.
Since 1980, the positions of the poles have moved about 4 meters.
The study theorizes that the accelerated decline of water stored on land is the main driver of the rapid polar drift since the 1990s.