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Groundwater Extraction Shifts Earth’s Tilt


  • The Earth’s axis has been discovered to be greatly impacted by groundwater extraction, a practise widely utilised to meet human water demands, leading it to lean towards the east.
  • The impact of groundwater depletion on the rotation of the earth has not previously been recognised, according to a recent study by researchers at Seoul National University.
  • The study emphasises how this phenomena affects sea levels and how crucial it is to address current groundwater management practises.

Relevance –

  • GS Paper 1 – Physical Geography – Earth and its motion
  • GS Paper 3 – Environmental Impact

Mains Question

The influence of groundwater extraction on sea level rise and Earth’s axis shift is highlighted in the study by researchers at Seoul National University. Discuss the environmental effects that groundwater depletion might have and offer solutions to the problems that come with sustainable groundwater management. (150 Words)

Earth’s Dynamic Axis for Understanding Earth’s Wobble

Various factors, such as weather patterns, seasonal changes, the molten core, and powerful hurricanes, contribute to the axis’ movement, which is akin to a spinning top slightly off-kilter. Scientists track this motion relative to astronomical phenomena, such as the centres of bright galaxies or quasars.

Groundwater depletion and its relation to water:

  1. The Effect of Water on Earth’s Rotation: Previous research has demonstrated that global water circulation affects the dynamics of the Earth’s rotation.
    1. The 2016 study showed how the Earth’s axis wobble was influenced by water circulation.
  2. Information on Groundwater Extraction:
    1. The Earth’s axis shift is linked to water movement, such as melting ice caps, glaciers, and groundwater, by scientists at Seoul National University under the direction of Professor Ki-Weon Seo. Initial model simulations did not match the observed axis drift until groundwater extraction was taken into account.
    2. The rotation pole drift’s previously unknown source, groundwater pumping, has been discovered.

Findings and Implications

  1. Sea-Level Rise and Groundwater Depletion: According to the study, between 1993 and 2010, 2,150 billion tonnes of groundwater were pumped into the oceans, causing a 6.24 mm sea-level rise.
    1. A major aspect affecting the amount of axis drift is the location of groundwater depletion.
  2. Mid-Latitude Regions Most Affected: The model showed that groundwater extraction from mid-latitude areas had the most significant impact on the Earth’s axis drift, and that groundwater redistribution was most intense in northwest India and western North America, both mid-latitude regions.

Groundwater Depletion and Regional Issues:

  • India has struggled with serious groundwater depletion, especially during the past ten years.
  • Irrigation of agricultural land in India accounts for over 95% of groundwater extraction.


The latest work brings to light a hitherto underappreciated effect of groundwater extraction on Earth axis shift. Along with other issues, groundwater depletion contributes to the planet’s swaying motion. The importance of sound groundwater management practises is also emphasised, along with the connection between groundwater extraction, sea-level rise, and these factors. The development of sustainable ways to reduce the negative effects of groundwater extraction on the dynamics of the Earth can be aided by an understanding of these consequences.

December 2023