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  • 05 May, 2021

  • 7 Min Read

Shift in Earth’s Axis-Climate Change

The shift in Earth’s Axis-Climate Change

GS-Paper-3: Environment – UPSC PRELIMS – Mains Application

A new study has added the shifting of Earth’s axis to the list of consequences of climate change, which already includes rising sea levels, heat waves, melting glaciers and storms. While this change is not expected to affect daily life, it can change the length of the day by a few milliseconds.

Earth’s Axis

  • The Earth’s axis of rotation is the line along which it spins around itself as it revolves around the Sun. The points on which the axis intersects the planet’s surface are the geographical north and south poles.
  • The location of the poles is not fixed, however, as the axis moves due to changes in how the Earth’s mass is distributed around the planet.
  • Thus, the poles move when the axis moves, and the movement is called “polar motion”.
  • Generally, polar motion is caused by changes in the hydrosphere, atmosphere, oceans, or solid Earth.
  • According to NASA, data from the 20th century shows that the spin axis drifted about 10 centimetres per year.

As per the study, since the 1990s, climate change has caused significant glacial ice to melt into oceans, which in turn has caused the Earth’s poles to move in new directions.

  • Other causes may include terrestrial water storage change in non? glacial regions due to climate change and unsustainable consumption of groundwater and other anthropogenic activities.
  • The North Pole has shifted in a new eastward direction since the 1990s, because of changes in the hydrosphere.
  • The calculations were based on satellite data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) mission and estimates of glacier loss and groundwater pumping going back to the 1980s.

What is climate change?

Climate Change is a periodic modification of Earth’s climate brought about due to the changes in the atmosphere as well as the interactions between the atmosphere and various other geological, chemical, biological and geographical factors within the Earth’s system.

Climate change can make weather patterns less predictable. These unforeseen weather patterns can make it difficult to maintain and grow crops, making agriculture-dependent countries like India vulnerable.

Natural Factors:

There are numerous natural factors that cause the Earth’s climate to change. They affect the climate over a period of thousands to millions of years.

Continental Drift:

The present-day continents were not the same prior to 200 million years. They have formed millions of years ago when the landmass began to drift apart due to plate displacement. This movement had an impact on climate change due to the change on the landmass’s physical features and position and the change in water bodies’ position like the change in the follow of ocean currents and winds. The drifting of the landmass is continued today. The Himalayan range is rising approximately 1 millimetre every year as the Indian landmass is moving towards the Asian landmass.

Variation of the Earth’s orbit:

The Earth’s orbit has an impact on the sunlight’s seasonal distribution that is reaching the Earth’s surface. A slight change in the Earth’s orbit can lead to variation in distribution across the world.

There are three types of orbital variations – variations in Earth’s eccentricity, variations in the tilt angle of the Earth’s axis of rotation and precession of Earth’s axis. These together can cause Milankovitch cycles, which have a huge impact on climate and are well-known for their connection to the glacial and interglacial periods. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change finding showed that the Milankovitch cycles had influenced the behaviour of ice formation

Plate tectonics:

Due to the change in the temperature in the core of the Earth, the mantle plumes and convection currents forced the Earth’s Plates to adjust leading to the rearrangement of the Earth Plate. This can influence the global and local patterns of climate and atmosphere. The oceans’ geometry is determined by the continents’ position. Therefore, the position of the continents influences the pattern of the ocean.

The location of the sea also plays a crucial role in controlling the transfer of heat and moisture across the globe and determines the global climate. A recent example of the tectonic control on ocean circulation is the formation of the Isthmus of Panama about 5 million years ago, leading to the prevention of direct mixing of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Volcanic Activity:

When a volcano erupts, it emits gases and dust particles, causing a partial block of the Sunrays. This can lead to the cooling of the weather. Though the volcanic activities last only for a few days, the gases and ashes released by it can last for a long period, leading to it influencing climate patterns.

Sulphur oxide emitted by volcanic activities can combine with water to form tiny droplets of sulphuric acid. These droplets are so small that many of them can stay in the air for several years.

Ocean Currents:

Ocean current is one of the major components of the climate system. It is driven by horizontal winds causing the movement of the water against the sea surface. The temperature differences of the water influence the climate of the region.

Anthropogenic Factors:

Global warming, the long-term rise in the average temperature of the Earth’s climate system, is a major aspect of climate change. It is mainly a human-caused increase in global surface temperature. The anthropogenic factors causing climate change are as follows:

Greenhouse Gases:

The greenhouse gases absorb heat radiation from the sun. Following the initiation of the Industrial Revolution, the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere has increased exponentially. This has led to more absorption and retaining the heat in the atmosphere. This resulted in an increase in Global Temperature. The greenhouse gases mostly do not absorb the solar radiation but absorb most of the infrared emitted by the Earth’s surface.

The main greenhouse gases include

  • Water vapour (the majority of the GHG in the atmosphere but the impact is less)
  • Carbon dioxide released due to natural and anthropogenic factors spends more time in the atmosphere, leading to an increase in its impact. There has been a 30% increase in the concentration of CO2 since the start of the industrial revolution. Apart from the industrial revolution, deforestation also contributes to the increase in the CO
  • Chlorofluorocarbons, used for industrial purposes, especially in refrigerants and air conditioning, is a man-made compound regulated under the Montreal Protocol due to their adverse effects on the Ozone layers.
  • Methane is released due to the decomposition of organic matter. It is stronger than CO2 because of its capacity to absorb more heat.
  • Nitrous oxide is produced by the agricultural sector, especially in the production and use of organic fertilizers and while burning fossil fuels.

Change in the land use pattern:

Half of the land-use change is said to have happened during the industrial era. Most of the forests were replaced by agricultural cropping and grazing of lands.

The increased albedo (reflectivity of an object in space) in the snow-covered high-altitude regions due to deforestation led to the cooling of the planet’s surface. The lower the albedo, the more of the Sun’s radiation gets absorbed by the planet and the temperatures will rise. If the albedo is higher and the Earth is more reflective, more of the radiation is returned to space, leading to the cooling of the planet.

Tropical deforestation changes the evapotranspiration rates (the amount of water vapour put in the atmosphere through evaporation and transpiration from trees), causes desertification and affects soil moisture characteristics.

Atmospheric aerosols:

Aerosols can directly affect climate change by absorbing or reflecting solar radiation. They can also produce indirect effects by modifying the cloud’s formation and properties. They can even be transported thousands of kilometres away from its source through wind and upper-level circulation in the atmosphere.

There are two types of aerosols – Natural aerosols and Anthropogenic aerosols. The sources of natural aerosols include volcanic eruptions (produce sulphate aerosols) and biogenic sources like planktons (can produce dimethyl sulphide).

The anthropogenic aerosols include: The ammonia used for fertilizers or released by the burning of plants and other organic materials forms a major source for Nitrate aerosols. Burning of coal and oil produces sulphur dioxide that forms a major source of sulphate aerosols Burning of biomass can release a combination of organic droplets and soot particles.

India’s response to Climate Change

  • National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC): outlines existing and future policies and programs addressing climate mitigation and adaptation. The Action Plan identifies eight core “national missions” running through to 2017: Solar Energy; Enhanced Energy Efficiency; Sustainable Habitat; Water; Sustaining the Himalayan Ecosystem; Green India; Sustainable Agriculture; and Strategic Knowledge for Climate Change. Most of these missions have strong adaptation imperatives.
  • National Clean Energy Fund: The Government of India created the National Clean Energy Fund (NCEF) in 2010 for financing and promoting clean energy initiatives and funding research in the area of clean energy in the country. The corpus of the fund is built by levying a cess of INR 50 (subsequently increased to INR 100 in 2014) per tonne of coal produced domestically or imported.
  • Paris Agreement: Under the Paris Agreement, India has made three commitments. India’s greenhouse gas emission intensity of its GDP will be reduced by 33-35% below 2005 levels by 2030. Alongside, 40% of India’s power capacity would be based on non-fossil fuel sources. At the same time, India will create an additional ‘carbon sink’ of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of Co2 equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030.
  • International Solar Alliance: ISA was launched at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris on 30 November 2015 by India and France, in the presence of Mr. Ban Ki Moon, former Secretary-General of the United Nations.
  • Bharat Stage (BS) Emission Norms: Emissions from vehicles are one of the top contributors to air pollution, which led the government at the time to introduce the BS 2000 (Bharat Stage 1) vehicle emission norms from April 2000, followed by BS-II in 2005. BS-III was implemented nationwide in 2010. However, in 2016, the government decided to meet the global best practices and leapfrog to BS-VI norms by skipping BS V altogether.

For Climate Change News:


Source: TE


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