Adjust your alarm clock!

A fascinating, perhaps even non-trivial, insight into that massive earthquake.

(Thanks to the website Mish’s Global Economic Trend Analysis for giving me a heads-up to this aspect of the ‘quake.)

MISH’s website pointed me to the website where there was this interesting reflection.

The massive earthquake that struck northeast Japan Friday (March 11) has shortened the length Earth’s day by a fraction and shifted how the planet’s mass is distributed.

A new analysis of the 8.9-magnitude earthquake in Japan has found that the intense temblor has accelerated Earth’s spin, shortening the length of the 24-hour day by 1.8 microseconds, according to geophysicist Richard Gross at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Gross refined his estimates of the Japan quake’s impact – which previously suggested a 1.6-microsecond shortening of the day – based on new data on how much the fault that triggered the earthquake slipped to redistribute the planet’s mass. A microsecond is a millionth of a second.

“By changing the distribution of the Earth’s mass, the Japanese earthquake should have caused the Earth to rotate a bit faster, shortening the length of the day by about 1.8 microseconds,” Gross told in an e-mail. More refinements are possible as new information on the earthquake comes to light, he added.

The scenario is similar to that of a figure skater drawing her arms inward during a spin to turn faster on the ice. The closer the mass shift during an earthquake is to the equator, the more it will speed up the spinning Earth.

I was also interested to read in that article more confirmation that the earthquake moved Japan! (I had mentioned it in an earlier post on Learning from Dogs.)

The initial data suggests Friday’s earthquake moved Japan’s main island about 8 feet, according to Kenneth Hudnut of the U.S. Geological Survey. The earthquake also shifted Earth’s figure axis by about 6 1/2 inches (17 centimeters), Gross added.

The Earth’s figure axis is not the same as its north-south axis in space, which it spins around once every day at a speed of about 1,000 mph (1,604 kph). The figure axis is the axis around which the Earth’s mass is balanced and the north-south axis by about 33 feet (10 meters).

“This shift in the position of the figure axis will cause the Earth to wobble a bit differently as it rotates, but will not cause a shift of the Earth’s axis in space – only external forces like the gravitational attraction of the sun, moon, and planets can do that,” Gross said.

So if you are the sort of person that likes to be precisely on time ….. take note!

4 thoughts on “Adjust your alarm clock!

  1. The following article, extracted from my book Voice and Noise, 2006, contains another reflection on the rotational speed of that planet of which we are all indigenous. I thought I might share it with you.

    Our quixotic windmills

    It has been a hard year for the promoters of wind energy. Though the economic viability of the windmills has improved considerably as oil has become more expensive, they have had to fight many battles on the environmental front which must have been somewhat surprising for these valiant champions of the green.

    Besides the aesthetics, where people still cannot make up their mind whether they are impressive or horrendous, over the last year we have read a lot about the problems of their causing death of birds and bats. But if they thought that was it, they had better prepare themselves since there is an ongoing study that seeks to measure the impact of the windmills when and if there would be enough of them to produce 5% of the world’s electrical needs. That would signify, worldwide, hundreds of thousands of them.

    From the initial results that have been privately circulated, the study has identified some new threats never even thought of before but that could become insurmountable hurdles. The first is whether the friction produced by the wind will in itself increase global warming. Second, as the windmills are located in windy areas and therefore not equally distributed over the world, there is the possibility that the world could turn some degrees over its axle, a bit like the effect of the recent mega earthquake that produced the tsunami.

    The final threat identified is that the windmills, by acting like some big sails, could accelerate the rotation of our planet. Luckily this final concern has already been eliminated as the calculations showed that this effect was to be neutralized by less wind impacting mountains and other places. Nonetheless, by just posing the argument it has also opened problems of a legal nature. For example, neighboring countries might complain that the windmills are literarily taking the wind out of their sails.

    The final problem identified but that lies outside the scope of the current study is related to what will happen to the ecology of previously windy area when the winds are gone.

    As this year we celebrate Cervantes’ Don Quixote we cannot but reflect on how the modern windmills are fighting a quixotic war on their own.

    P.S. Early one morning I met with some World Bank staff who wanted to tell me about the details of an alternative-energy project—windmills. Coming from an oil-producing country, in jest I improvised the above have-you-heard-the news-about-windmills story, and to my delight, some fell for it. Later, for April Fool’s Day I sent it out to some of my knowledgeable friends. To my surprise, instead of laughter, many of the answers were of a yes-this-needs-to-be-better-researched nature. Could it really be that my joke contains some truths and is on us?


    1. Thanks, and, if you want more on punctuality, what about this?

      Time and human rights

      I have no intention of putting the right to punctuality in the same category as the right to education, security, health care, food, and work. However, in a country such as ours (Venezuela) where we because of sheer lack of punctuality can easily lose up to three hours per week waiting for something or another, this, over our an average active life span of 55 years, adds up to around one year. As civil-rights organizations normally go ballistic whenever anyone is arrested without justification even for a couple of hours, I wonder how they let this pass.

      There can be no doubt that the majority of our countrymen do, without any remorse whatsoever, blithely ignore the existence and purpose of the clock, and so it is evident that in terms of punctuality we need a total reform of our civil society. How do we achieve this?

      One alternative would be the creation of a “Punctual Venezuela,” parallel to the actual one. For example, if we start to use a little symbol that could be printed on all invitations to those activities that really require punctuality at the risk of being either excluded from the event or publicly chastised, we could possibly begin to create some semblance of civility. This symbol could be a watch, but I’d rather leave that up to the specialists in advertising.

      The interesting part of this alternative is that it would allow us to impose, as of today, a heavy public and social sanction for those who lack punctuality without having to request that “notorious and incurable sinners” kick the habit cold-turkey. Also, maintaining the option of a not punctual Venezuela alive would allow us to continue to humor those foreign visitors who with a tropical flare that rivals our best take every chance they get to free themselves from the yoke of punctuality.

      From The Daily Journal, Caracas, June 11, 1999

      About parallels and meridians

      We have recently witnessed public spectacles such as the fight the United States has sustained with Europe about bananas. Perhaps the effect of global warming has been much greater than we suspect as it seems to have moved the parallels normally identified with Banana Republics northward.

      However the meridians might have gone haywire as well. I often take my daughters to parties that begin at midnight, which to me simply seems like a real and crude version, in cinéma vérité, of Saturday Night Fever. I cannot but suspect that their generation has simply decided to substitute the East Coast’s meridian for that of the West Coast. Some of the television channels seem also to suffer from the same syndrome. Somehow, I always seem to go to bed at night watching their afternoon comics while, if I am not careful, my daughters could wake up with their XXX-rated after midnight material.

      From The Daily Journal, Caracas, June 11, 1999

      Three bullets on punctuality

      My daughter’s cult
      She is rarely late but she is absolutely never ever a minute early. She follows that Just-In-Time cult that drives us inhumanely nuts.

      My wife’s cult
      She is never late, but she is absolutely never ever just in time. She follows that better-early-than-late cult that has made us use years of our life waiting in airport departure halls.

      My reality
      Being squeezed between the just-in-time cult and the better-early-than-late cult is probably one of the reasons why I have been harassed into developing a radical middle mumbo-jumbo philosophy.

      From Voice and Noise, 2006


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