- Pole shift hypothesis
"Polar Shift" redirects here. For the Clive Cussler novel, see Polar Shift (novel). For the Antarctica benefit compilation, see Polar Shift (album).This article is about the hypothesis of pole shift in its historical context. For a description of the modern scientific understanding, see true polar wander.
The cataclysmic pole shift hypothesis suggests that there have been geologically rapid shifts in the relative positions of the modern-day geographic locations of the poles and the axis of rotation of the Earth, creating calamities such as floods and tectonic events.
No form of the hypothesis is accepted amongst the general scientific community. There is evidence of precession and changes in axial tilt, but this change is on much longer time-scales and does not involve relative motion of the spin axis with respect to the planet. However, in what is known as true polar wander, the solid Earth can rotate with respect to a fixed spin axis. Research shows that during the last 200 million years a total true polar wander of some 30° has occurred, but that no super-rapid shifts in the Earth's pole were found during this period. A characteristic rate of true polar wander is 1° per million years or less. Between approximately 790 and 810 million years ago, when the supercontinent Rodinia existed, two geologically-rapid phases of true polar wander may have occurred. In each of these, the Earth rotated ~55°.
Definition and clarification
The geographic poles of the Earth are the points on the surface of the planet that are intersected by the axis of rotation. The pole shift hypothesis describes a change in location of these poles with respect to the underlying surface – a phenomenon distinct from the changes in axial orientation with respect to the plane of the ecliptic that are caused by precession and nutation, and from true polar wander.
Pole shift hypotheses are not connected with plate tectonics, the well-accepted geological theory that the Earth's surface consists of solid plates which shift over a fluid asthenosphere; nor with continental drift, the corollary to plate tectonics which maintains that locations of the continents have moved slowly over the face of the Earth, resulting in the gradual emerging and breakup of continents and oceans over hundreds of millions of years.
Pole shift hypotheses are not the same as geomagnetic reversal, the periodic reversal of the Earth's magnetic field (effectively switching the north and south magnetic poles).
In popular literature, many conjectures have been suggested involving very rapid polar shift. A slow shift in the poles would display the most minor alterations and no destruction. A more dramatic view assumes more rapid changes, with dramatic alterations of geography and localized areas of destruction due to earthquakes and tsunamis.
An early mention of a shifting of the Earth's axis can be found in an 1872 article entitled "Chronologie historique des Mexicains" by Charles Étienne Brasseur de Bourbourg, a specialist in Mesoamerican codices who interpreted ancient Mexican myths as evidence for four periods of global cataclysms that had begun around 10,500 B.C.
In 1948, Hugh Auchincloss Brown, an electrical engineer, advanced a hypothesis of catastrophic pole shift. Brown also argued that accumulation of ice at the poles caused recurring tipping of the axis, identifying cycles of approximately seven millennia.
In his controversial 1950 work Worlds in Collision, Immanuel Velikovsky postulated that the planet Venus emerged from Jupiter as a comet. During two proposed near approaches in about 1,450 B.C., he suggested that the direction of the Earth's rotation was changed radically, then reverted to its original direction on the next pass. This disruption supposedly caused earthquakes, tsunamis, and the parting of the Red Sea. Further, he said near misses by Mars between 776 and 687 B. C. also caused the Earth's axis to change back and forth by ten degrees. Velikovsky supported his work with historical records, although his studies were mainly ridiculed by the scientific community.
Charles Hapgood is now perhaps the best remembered early proponent. In his books The Earth's Shifting Crust (1958) (which includes a foreword by Albert Einstein that was written before the theory of plate tectonics was developed) and Path of the Pole (1970). Hapgood, building on Adhemar's much earlier model, speculated that the ice mass at one or both poles over-accumulates and destabilizes the Earth's rotational balance, causing slippage of all or much of Earth's outer crust around the Earth's core, which retains its axial orientation.
Based on his own research, Hapgood argued that each shift took approximately 5,000 years, followed by 20,000- to 30,000-year periods with no polar movements. Also, in his calculations, the area of movement never covered more than 40 degrees. Hapgood's examples of recent locations for the North Pole include Hudson Bay (60˚N, 73˚W) , the Atlantic Ocean between Iceland and Norway (72˚N, 10˚E) and Yukon (63˚N, 135˚W).
However, in his subsequent work The Path of the Pole, Hapgood conceded Einstein's point that the weight of the polar ice would be insufficient to bring about a polar shift. Instead, Hapgood argued that the forces that caused the shifts in the crust must be located below the surface. He had no satisfactory explanation for how this could occur.
Hapgood wrote to the Canadian librarian, Rand Flem-Ath, encouraging him in his pursuit of scientific evidence to back Hapgood's claims and in his expansion of the hypothesis. Flem-Ath published the results of this work in 1995 in When the Sky Fell co-written with his wife, Rose.
The field has attracted pseudoscientific authors offering a variety of evidence, including psychic readings.
In the 1970s and 1980s a series of books not intended as fiction by former Washington Newspaper reporter Ruth Shick Montgomery elaborates on Edgar Cayce readings.
In 1997 Richard W. Noone published 5/5/2000, ICE: The Ultimate Disaster. This book argued that a cataclysmic shift of the Earth's ice cap covering Antarctica caused by a planetary alignment and solar storms, would lead to crustal displacement on May 5, 2000.
In 1998 retired civil engineer James G. Bowles proposed in Atlantis Rising magazine a mechanism by which a polar shift could occur. He named this Rotational-Bending, or the RB-effect. He hypothesized that combined gravitational effects of the Sun and the Moon pulled at the Earth's crust at an oblique angle. This force steadily wore away at the underpinnings that linked the crust to the inner mantle. This generates a plastic zone that allows the crust to rotate with respect to the lower layers. Centrifugal forces will act on the mass of ice at the poles, causing them to move to the equator.
Books on this subject have been published by William Hutton, including the 1996 book Coming Earth Changes: Causes and Consequences of the Approaching Pole Shift (ISBN 0876043619), which compared geologic records with the psychic readings of Edgar Cayce and predicted catastrophic climate changes before the end of 2001. In 2004 Hutton and co-author Jonathan Eagle published Earth's Catastrophic Past and Future: A Scientific Analysis of Information Channeled by Edgar Cayce (ISBN 1-58112-517-8), which summarizes possible mechanisms and the timing of a future pole shift.
It is now established that true polar wander has occurred at various times in the past, but at rates of 1° per million years or less. Analysis of the evidence does not lend credence to Hapgood's hypothesized rapid displacement of layers of the Earth. Although Hapgood drastically overestimated the effects of changing mass distributions across the Earth, calculations show that changing mass distributions both on the surface and in the mantle can cause true polar wander.
True polar wanderMain article: True polar wander
True polar wander, or the motion of the solid Earth with respect to a fixed spin axis that causes the spin axis to lie over a new geographic position, does occur. This is because of changes in mass distribution throughout the Earth that modify its moment of inertia tensor. The Earth consistently readjusts its orientation with respect to its spin axis such that its spin axis is parallel to the axis about which it has its greatest moment of inertia. This readjustment is very slow. In 2001, historical evidence for true polar wander was found in paleomagnetic data from granitic rocks from across North America. The data from these rocks conflict with the hypothesis of a cataclysmic true polar wander event. This evidence indicated that the geographical poles have not deviated by more than about 5° over the last 130 million years. More rapid past possible occurrences of true polar wander have been measured: from 790 to 810 million years ago, true polar wander of approximately 55° may have occurred twice.
Causes and effects
True polar wander can be caused by several mechanisms of redistributing mass and changing the moment of inertia tensor of the Earth:
- Glacial cycles: redistribution of ice and water masses, and resultant deformation of the crust, changes the mass distribution around the Earth.
- Perturbations of the topography of the core-mantle boundary, perhaps induced by differential core rotation and shift of its axial rotation vector, leading to CMB mass redistributions.
- Mass redistributions in the mantle.
The orientation of the rotational axis itself could be changed by the high-velocity impact of a massive asteroid or comet.
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- Alleged “Evidence” of Earth Crustal Displacement (Pole Shift) Analysis of specific evidence used to argue for geologically recent Pole Shift
- Fingerprints of the Gods An analysis of arguments made for a Late Pleistocene Pole Shift, based in the ideas of Rand Flem-Ath, by Graham Hancock in his 1995 book
- “The Day the Earth Fell Over” at LiveScience.com
- Charting Imaginary Worlds: Pole Shifts, Ice Sheets, and Ancient Sea Kings
- Minds in Ablation Part Five Addendum: Living in Imaginary Worlds More about interpreting ancient maps and ideas of Charles Hapgood.
- The Kerplop! Theory: Acme Instant Ice-Sheet Kit (Some Assembly Required)
- A Corruption of European History - Buache's Map of 1739
- “Earth's Poles May Have Wandered”, ScienceNOW Daily News, August 2006
- “What is that pole shift thing?"
- Natural hazards
- Pole shift theory and theorists
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