02/28/2012 03:57 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Climate Change May Alter Earth's Rotation


The basic premise behind man-made climate change is a simple one: Earth's atmosphere naturally contains greenhouse gases that keep our planet warm enough to be liveable. When we burn fossil fuels, though, we increase the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, disrupting Earth's ideal balance nature had developed. The result is global warming (an increase in the planet's average annual temperature) which, in turn, triggers climate change.

Some impacts of global warming and climate change are exactly as you'd expect -- weather is getting warmer and glaciers are melting. Other impacts, though, are less predictable: sea levels are rising; global health is facing major problems; the size of plants and animals is changing; satellites are traveling faster in their orbits; and mountains are getting taller. And now, a new study suggests that climate has the potential to actually speed up Earth's rotation, resulting in some shorter days.

Stephen Marcus and his colleagues at NASA and the Institute of Earth Physics of Paris in France say the Antarctic Circumpolar Current slowed abruptly for two weeks in November 2009. The resulting faster rotation during that time shortened each day by 0.1 milliseconds. While they're not sure of the cause of the slower current in this case, they acknowledge that it is more likely to slow again more often in the future as a result of climate change. Not only could climate change impact the ocean current, but those rising sea levels I mentioned earlier will shift water towards the poles, drawing mass closer to Earth's axis, thus increasing the rate of Earth's spin.

If these climate-triggered impacts come to pass, we'll all owe a debt of gratitude to global warming: creator of a shorter 39.999999 hour work week!

Special thanks to guest artist Reena Wagner for her contribution of the puppy character, "Puggis" that makes an appearance in today's strip.

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