Much has been made in the news of the shift in the Earth’s axis by half a foot as a result of the Japanese earthquake. The Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University’s Earth Institute has answered that question in a press release. The simply answer, is no.
Jerry McManus, a climate scientist at Columbia, answered the question with a simply no, but went on to explain just why what seems like such a big shift in the Earth’s axis is, in fact, not so big after all; or that uncommon.
While earthquakes do unleash a large amount of energy, especially large earthquakes like the Sendai earthquake, they do not release enough energy to shift the Earth’s axis enough to affect the weather.
In fact, larger shifts of Earth’s axis happen each year as a result of the fluctuating mass of the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans, and these don’t affect the weather at all. These natural variations can see shifts in the Earth’s axis of up to 39 inches, which far outstrip the 6.5 inch shift of the Japanese earthquake, not to mention the comparatively tiny 2.8-inch shift of the Chile earthquake in 2010.
Even these shifts, which seem massive when you consider the object being moved, are nothing in comparison to the long-term cyclical shifts of our planet’s movement that can change temperature and climate.
Earth currently leans at an angle of 23.5 degrees as it makes its way around the sun, which causes the seasons to act as they do. But variations in the Earth’s tilt over longer timescales can have a massive effect on the seasons. And every 41,000 years or so, our planet’s tilt shifts about a degree in either direction, a shift which is the equivalent of 70 miles. At its highest tilt—24.5 degrees—more sunlight falls on the poles; at its lowest—22.1 degrees—more light falls on the equator.
There are two other astronomical cycles which affect our planet’s climate; the changing shape of its elliptical path around the sun every 100,000 years or so, and the shifting wobble of its axis—much like a spinning top—on average, every 21,000 years.
Each of the above natural variances is caused by the gravitational effect had on our planet by our moon and the other planets in our solar system.
Source: Columbia University