Well, this is weird. Usually when you hear about climate change impacts, it’s your typical extreme heat wave. The European Space Agency highlighted a new area feeling the impact recently. Earth’s gravity.
According to the ESA, the massive and rapid loss of ice from West Antarctica between 2009 and 2012 was big enough for its impacts to be felt in Earth’s gravitational field over the region. The findings come from the ESA’s GOCE satellite, which extensively mapped the Earth’s gravitational field from 2009 to 2013.
Gravity isn’t constant across the Earth. Subtle variations occur based on the planet’s rotation and where mountains and ocean trenches are located. According to the ESA, “changes in the mass of large ice sheets can also cause small local variations in gravity.” Which is exactly what the GOCE satellite found.
But, these changes are miniscule. It’s not like you can head down to Antarctica and all of sudden weigh less.
Still, it shows that rapid ice melt is changing regions in a fundamental way. From 2011 through 2014, Antarctica’s ice was shrinking by 125 cubic kilometers per year.
The next step for researchers will be to expand their observations to all of Antarctica to see how the changes in ice mass affects the Earth’s gravity throughout the region.