Melting Ice Threatens Accuracy of Earth’s Timekeeping: What Metrologists Need to Do Now

Global Warming Impacts Earth’s Rotation and Universal Time Measurement | TECHNOLOGY

Greenland and Antarctica’s melting ice is having a significant impact on the Earth’s rotation speed, which could affect the accuracy of Universal Coordinated Time (UCT). UCT has been determined by ultra-sensitive atomic clocks since 1967, ensuring global digital and communication infrastructures.

To maintain synchrony between UCT and astronomical time, leap seconds have been added to atomic time since 1972 to compensate for fluctuations in the Earth’s rotation speed. However, this new challenge poses a threat to the introduction of a negative leap second in the future.

Metrology specialists are concerned about introducing a negative leap second in an increasingly connected world. Leap seconds will not be added until 2035, with the goal of allowing the difference between atomic time and the Earth’s rotation to reach one minute by that time. However, this plan may be compromised by accelerating ice melting in Greenland and Antarctica.

Since the 1990s, melting ice has slowed down the Earth’s rotation, affecting its distribution of fluids on and inside it. This could delay the transition to a negative leap second until 2029, giving metrologists more time to decide on their best course of action.

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