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Timekeepers in a tizzy as climate change alters speed of Earth's rotation

Struggling to wrap your head around daylight savings time this weekend? Spare a thought for the world's timekeepers, who are trying to work out how climate change is affecting the Earth's rotation – and in turn, how we keep track of time.

The Earth’s speeding rotation is threatening to mess with time, clocks and computers in an unprecedented way.

For the first time in history, world timekeepers may have to consider resetting our clocks because the planet is rotating faster than it used to.

Yet a new study suggests that climate change is slowing it down – pushing back the point at which the world's atomic clocks will have to skip back for what scientists call a “negative leap second”.

Out of sync

Throughout history, time has been measured by the rotation of the Earth.

However, in 1967, scientists embraced atomic clocks – which use the frequency of atoms as their tick-tock – ushering in a more precise era of timekeeping.

Nonetheless timekeeping has remained aligned with the Earth's rotation for historical and navigational reasons.

But our planet is an unreliable clock, and has long been rotating slightly slower than atomic time – meaning the two measurements were out of sync.

Though most people likely have not noticed, 27 leap seconds have been added to UTC since 1972, the last one coming in 2016.

But in recent years a new problem has emerged that few saw coming: Earth's rotation has been speeding up, overtaking atomic time.

This means that to synchronise the two measurements, timekeepers may have to introduce the first ever negative leap second – a minute with only 59 seconds.

Unpredictable planet

(with AFP)


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