Study: Earth "loses" 1 second in 2029, the problems it may bring


Study: Earth "loses" 1 second in 2029, the problems it may bring

Very often, climate change is associated with the phenomenon of melting glaciers, without however explaining the magnitude of the consequences that may arise from this phenomenon.

The melting of polar ice is, in fact, affecting the shape and rotation of the Earth and therefore our global clock. This is because changes in the Earth's structure are slowing down the speed of the Planet's rotation around its axis, thus having consequences on Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), better known as time zones.

What the study says

According to public research in the journal Nature by Duncan Carr Agneë of the University of California, San Diego, the introduction for the first time of the so-called "negative leap second", i.e. one second less, originally planned for 2026, could postponed to 2029. The reason is attributed to climate change, which is now intertwined with the measurement of time: the melting of the polar ice, in Greenland and Antarctica, is slowing down the angular velocity of the Earth, that is, the speed of rotation of our planet around its axis . This has important consequences for the regulation of Coordinated Universal Time, or UTC, which is the time zone chosen as the global reference for calculating all the world's time zones and which has undergone periodic corrections since 1972. “Melting glaciers of Greenland and Antarctica changes the mass distribution and therefore the shape of our planet, which is not a sphere, but a geoid", Massimo Frezzotti, glaciologist and professor at Roma Tre University, explains to ANSA.

"In the last 40 years the melting of the ice at the poles has increased about six times, these are minimal changes at the global level, but enough to affect the speed of the Earth's rotation," he added.

Coordinated Universal Time is currently calculated using data from approximately 450 atomic clocks located in more than 80 laboratories around the world.

Atomic clocks measure time based on the vibrations of cesium atoms and have an accuracy of billionths of a second. The problem is precisely their accuracy: the movement of the Earth itself has small irregularities, for example from the tides, which make the time of rotation slightly variable from day to day and which made it necessary, in 1972, to introduce the second fragile, so that "UTC" coincides with atomic clock time. Since then it has been necessary to add 27 split seconds, carried out whenever the difference between the two timing methods approaches 0.6 seconds: the last one was added in 2016, but we are now faced with the challenge of removing , instead of adding a leap second, due to the slowing down of the Earth's angular velocity.


The possibility of removing the leap second has never been addressed and could create unprecedented problems for satellite navigation systems, computers and financial markets, which rely on UTC. Duncan Agnes then used mathematical models to study the effect of changes in Earth's motions on timekeeping systems, finding that melting polar ice is accelerating the slowing of Earth's rotation. The researcher then used this data to predict the Earth's angular velocity in the future, estimating that the negative leap second will be needed not in 2026, as originally calculated, but about three years later, in 2029.