Shift in Earth’s axis has little effect, experts say

Since Friday I have been watching events in Japan unfold with great sadness for the Japanese people. Devastation and loss of life on that scale is absolutely heartbreaking. And scary – and not just for the Japanese people. As has been reported in the media, the earthquake has not only shifted the main island of Japan by 2.4 metres (8 feet) but according the CNN report it’s shifted the Earth on its axis by nearly 10 centimeters (4 inches).

The experts however say that this will have little effect, as this report explains (something obviously got “lost in translation” regarding the units of measure, since the two articles don’t agree on by how much the Earth has actually moved!):

Initial results out of Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology show that the 8.9-magnitude earthquake that rattled Japan yesterday shifted Earth’s rotation axis by about 25 centimetres.

INGV’s report, which came hours after the devastating quake, is equivalent to “very, very tiny” changes that won’t be seen for centuries, Canadian geologists say.

Only after centuries would a second be lost as each day is shortened by a millionth of a second, according to University of Toronto geology professor Andrew Miall.

“Ten inches sounds like quite a lot when you hold a ruler in front of you. But if you think of it in terms of the earth as a whole, it’s absolutely tiny; it’s minute,” he said.

“It’s going to make minute changes to the length of a day. It could make very, very tiny changes to the tilt of the Earth, which affects the seasons, but these effects are so small, it’d take very precise satellite navigation to pick it up.”

Read more . . .

Okay, so I can relax about that. Now I can concentrate on worrying about the real danger of meltdowns at Japan’s nuclear power plants. But it seems that not everybody seems to be that worried – in India the ICC Cricket World Cup continues  . . .

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Categories: Nature/Environment, Random


I live on the Southern coast of South Africa, and write about the things that interest, amuse or inspire me. You can find me at and (my photoblog)


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36 Comments on “Shift in Earth’s axis has little effect, experts say”

  1. March 13, 2011 at 12:05 pm #

    Yes, it really is sad.

    Thanks for alerting us to these reports – it’s very interesting. I’ve read that there are thousands of quakes a year that people don’t feel, but do those quakes not add to the major ones in the end? I can’t argue with the experts obviously, but I am wondering.

    The thought of the nuclear plants meltdowns is very scary.

    • March 13, 2011 at 3:08 pm #

      I think the little ones are small releases of pressure, and the big ones signify the huge shifts in the earth’s crust. I cannot describe it very well, so take a look at the Wikipedia explanation here.

      Yes, the possibility of a nuclear meltdown is very scary. It would affect that region for generations to come.

  2. March 13, 2011 at 12:37 pm #

    Fascinating, in a macabre kind of way. I had no idea that earthquakes could actually shift the earth’s axis.

    • March 13, 2011 at 3:10 pm #

      I didn’t know about it either, and was quite alarmed when I read that first CNN report. Looks like a lot of other people were too, judging by the number of people searching for information about it.

  3. March 13, 2011 at 3:40 pm #

    I´ve seen the videos and it is really devastating. Last year, about the same time, there was a quake in Santiago (Chile) and it was felt in BA. Our coast moved two centimeters I was told.
    In a metaphoric way, I think that the earth is shaking a virus called human beings. We are damaging it very badly. The nuclear problem was created by us and I really fear that it can get so much worse because of its danger.
    Let´s just hope that peoples come to their senses and stop destroying our environment.

    • March 13, 2011 at 4:07 pm #

      Interesting observation! You know although I know logically that people don’t cause earthquakes (at least not this type), it also feels to me like the Earth is angry. I feel the same way about you re: what we humans are doing to our planet.

      Thanks for sharing the information about the Chile earthquake.

  4. March 13, 2011 at 5:55 pm #

    I feel so sorry for the people of Japan who have been affected by this disaster. I have seen first hand how damaging rushing water can be, on a much smaller scale, of course. I can’t see how some of these places can recover.

    • March 13, 2011 at 7:20 pm #

      I’ve been feeling incredibly sad for the Japanese people too. Devastation and loss of life on this scale is difficult to comprehend.

    • March 13, 2011 at 7:22 pm #

      I forgot to add: I read somewhere the other day that they were expecting it to take 10 years to rebuild Christchurch (and surrounds) in New Zealand. I also can’t imagine how long it’s going to take Japan to recover from this.

  5. March 13, 2011 at 9:07 pm #

    What an awesomely fearsome earthquake this was – I had no idea it could shift the earth’s axis. Thanks for always adding to my education, Lisa.
    My heart is sore, though, for the people of Japan.
    Sunshine xx

    • March 14, 2011 at 10:13 am #

      I really hope that this was the “Big One” for Japan, and that they won’t have to go through this for many years to come. Every day the known extent of the damage just seems to get worse and worse.

      I was also wondering about the Earth shifting on its axis, so when I found the article I thought I’d share it. I didn’t realize just how many people found the news of this just as alarming as I did!

  6. March 13, 2011 at 11:57 pm #

    I read that there is now a new fissure in the middle of the Pacific ocean. Haven’t found the link again so not sure if that’s a rumor- lots of those have been flying around. I’m just astounded that a geological event could shift the earth’s axis. Apparently Offspring #2 has a test where she has to answer the degrees on which the axis belongs- now she’s not sure of the answer. Weird timing?

    • March 14, 2011 at 10:18 am #

      I haven’t heard anything about the fissure in the Pacific ocean. As far as I know the change in actual degrees in the earth’s shift is very small (like microseconds). I don’t know how accurate Offspring #2 has to be in her test?

  7. March 14, 2011 at 3:31 am #

    Unfortunately the danger aspect of the story gets lost in the unusual aspect. Let’s hope the scientists that work at those plants are smarter than those delivering the news.

    • March 14, 2011 at 10:24 am #

      I agree! On Friday I was watching CNN, and a meteorologist was explaining the progress of the tsunami waves across the Pacific Ocean to the US west coast. Although he was warning people to evacuate certain areas and stay off the beaches, he seemed extremely excited by how awesome an event this was. One he’d never probably (hopefully?!) never see in his lifetime again.

      I also hope that the scientists at the nuclear plants in Japan are making it a priority to sort out the problems, and not spending valuable time talking to the media.

  8. March 14, 2011 at 5:37 am #

    Words just can’t express how tragic these events are or how small we are in comparison to forces of nature. Earthquakes frequent the area I live, but it’s been a good 10 years since our last big one – which was about a 6.8. I simply cannot imagine the magnitude of what the Japanese people experienced.

    What I find comfort in is the miraculous stories of survival that have come out of Japan….the rooftop rescues or those who were literally buried alive but were rescued just in time. I’m impressed by those who are using their vacation time and their own money to join organizations flying to Japan to help – despite the incredible risks.

    Thank you Lisa, for sharing some of the science. There really is a lot to wrap the mind around.

    • March 14, 2011 at 10:32 am #

      We live in a very geologically stable part of the world, so I have no concept of how terrifying it must be to experience that kind of earthquake or a tsunami.

      I am also encouraged by the fact that the World is rallying around Japan, offering their aid. These kind of disasters seem to bring out the best in a lot of people. The US military/government especially is often criticized, but they’re doing such an amazing job there.

  9. Sarita Botha
    March 14, 2011 at 8:05 am #

    The whole event is so scary. I feel so sorry for the people of Japan.

  10. March 14, 2011 at 9:32 am #

    I’ve always thought of the Earth as a pretty solid ball – even I realise it has a core of molten magma, I always think of the land masses as being quite solidly anchored and stable.

    But seeing so many video clips on the internet of the solid ground moving and shaking and undulating and tilting under people’s feet, with things flying off shelves and tables, and walls buckling and building collapsing really drives home the point that human beings are actually very vulnerable.

    So reading that the earth’s axis has shifted, even ever so slightly, really adds to that feeling of vulnerability and uncertainty. Thank you for explaining it to us, Lisa.

    And then as if a massive earthquake with numerous aftershocks is not bad enough, the people of Japan now also have to contend with loss of life, serious injuries, tsunamis, widespread flooding, a nuclear emergency, numerous fires, damaged infrastructure, shortages of water, electricity, gas, food, heating, transport, communication…

    • March 14, 2011 at 10:37 am #

      I listen to a science podcast presented by a group that is mainly physicists and astro-physicists. Sometimes they talk about possible events – a huge asteroid hitting the earth or one of the super-volcanoes erupting – which bring home just how fragile our planet actually is.

      As you say, the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami is very serious and scary.

  11. March 14, 2011 at 1:48 pm #

    I think I was watching the same meteorologist on CNN. After hearing about the slightly shorter day, and the speedier rotation, I couldn’t help being alarmist and wonder if this could have a butterfly effect on the Earth’s jet streams and other air currents. By the way, I loved your fascinating post on the Kalahari birds.

    • March 14, 2011 at 5:11 pm #

      What I find bad about a lot of the reporting that was done re: the shift in the earth’s axis, is that they didn’t explain it. That although it sounds bad, it’s quite a minute change. That it’s happened before (see this Scientific American article about the 2010 Chile earthquake: and will happen again and we’ll be okay. Although, like you, I still have thoughts of a butterfly effect in mind . . . 🙂

      Thanks for your comment re: Kalahari birds!

  12. jacquelincangro
    March 14, 2011 at 2:50 pm #

    Wow, I’d heard bits about estimates that the earth’s axis had been altered and that the island of Japan had moved as a result of the quake. Makes you realize that Mother Nature is bigger than all of us.

    • March 14, 2011 at 5:12 pm #

      Yes, it also makes me realize how insignificant we are in the Universe. And how quickly things could change for us.

  13. dom
    March 14, 2011 at 6:07 pm #

    I also understand the axis is shifting on a regular basis and that is more of an impact for the changing weather in the world. Floods in Australia, heavy amounts of snow, and increased in strengths of hurricanes and tornadoes.

    • March 15, 2011 at 7:11 am #

      That’s interesting. Do you know where I can find more information about this? Thanks for visiting my blog and for commenting!

  14. RColon
    March 15, 2011 at 5:46 pm #

    I wonder why the United Nations appear to be silent about this crisis. There should be a quick response disaster team that is always on the ready to fly and be on the ground in a disaster like this to assess and report the situation and coordinate what needs to be done. They should also have a recon team that will be on the ground, establish landing spots for helicopters to bring in food and supplies. The government of the affected nation may not be able to respond right away because they themselves maybe affected and cannot think rationally. An outside team can do that while they re-compose themselves. It is now day 5 of this crisis, aid is coming slowly. We have seen too many disaster of late, it is time we have a global response team.

    • March 16, 2011 at 7:04 am #

      I agree with you that the affected nation is often not in a position to organize their own search and rescue missions. As to establishing an International disaster response team: it looks like the United Nations has done this already – see INSARAG and they have also published an early report on the situation in Japan on the OCHA Home page (there’s a box in the upper right corner re: the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. It starts with the following:

      (Tokyo/New York, 14 March 2011): A United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team has arrived in Japan to support the Government in its emergency response operations.

      A major emergency rescue and relief operation is underway following a 9.0 earthquake that triggered a powerful tsunami that devastated the coast of northeast Japan on the Friday.

      However, this is not the normal UNDAC deployment as the Government of Japan has a very strong disaster preparedness and response mechanism in place and is coordinating the international response effort.

      More than 13 countries have sent specialized international search and rescue teams to help the Government and its emergency response agencies.

      I read somewhere else that the Japanese Disaster Response team was still in Christchurch, New Zealand helping there when the earthquake happened in Japan.

  15. Estie
    March 18, 2011 at 5:56 pm #

    The people in Japan must really suffer. Thanks for the website. I’ve shown it to a couple of people and everybody was touched by it.

    • March 18, 2011 at 6:41 pm #

      It’s a week later now, and I still can’t believe what happened actually happened.

      Are you talking about the link to the satellite photos? That really brings home the level of destruction, doesn’t it?

  16. Brian albert flores
    August 1, 2011 at 6:25 am #

    I see that in California we are experiencing low temps and the Mideast as of 720 having record breaking temperatures. There is less ice to counteract the weight difference allowing earthquakes to influence the rotation rather than axis.
    The earth is sponge it can remain in the same axis but have rotational unbalances and create off tides and late sunsets. Today the Sun set at 805 and at 905 can still se the glow of sun. Not
    Only that it rained here
    This morning and thundered. Only meaning that more moisture is in the air.
    Now I hear that there is no global warming. In an article I read, stated that the emissions are what’s being trapped but the atmosphere is able to still release heat. So that it really has no effect!’ what we seen is the emissions that stay in the air(atmosphere). Now I refer to the heat we are
    Experiencing as “standing behind a truck or jet
    engine, the exhaust makes it hard to breath, hot and sticky(humid). Which is what the sun does to the left over emissions(smog) Is warms it up and becomes the heat, humidity we feel today.

    Brian A. Flores Corcoran ca is where I’m reachable

    • August 1, 2011 at 9:28 am #

      Hi Brian! Thanks for the information. I prefer the term “climate change” to “global warming”. Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving a comment!

  17. July 5, 2012 at 10:33 pm #

    Reblogged this on Vijana wetu.

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