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Global warming could slow Earth spin, lengthen days

A new spin on global warming?
A new spin on global warming?  

Richard Stenger
CNN Sci-Tech

(CNN) -- By steadily releasing more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, humans could inadvertently slow down the rotation of the Earth, according to a new scientific report.

A team of Belgian researchers came to that conclusion after using climate models to simulate a 1 percent increase in the primary greenhouse gas each year, a rise they said coincides with current trends.

While slight, the shift in the planet's spin could be measured over the course of decades, providing an ideal method to check the effects of civilization-induced warming of the world, the scientists said.

"The Earth's rotation is an interesting quantity as it is global. Meteorological data are mainly local," said Michel Crucifix. "Consequently, the Earth rotation is a useful tool for looking at the effects of global climate change."

Crucifix and colleagues plotted how the extra gas would affect ocean currents, atmospheric winds and other meteorological patterns that influence the angular momentum of the Earth.

In the short term, natural variations in such weather systems would muddle the task of determining how much the gas influx slows the planet.

But over decades or longer, the human effect could become quite pronounced, at least in relation to precise measurements of celestial mechanics.

The carbon gas spike could add 11 extra microseconds every ten years, unless changes in wind speed and atmospheric pressure somehow cancel each other out, the Belgian Royal Observatory scientists calculated. A microsecond is 1 millionth of a second.

What should the average person do to deal with the longer days?

"If you have to invest money, it might be a good bet (to buy suntan lotion)," joked Olivier de Viron, co-author of the report, which appears in a recent edition of Geophysical Research Letters.


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