The Cataclysmic Pole Shift Hypothesis
Earth Changes and the Pole Shift

The Cataclysmic Pole Shift Hypothesis
Earth Changes and the Pole Shift

The cataclysmic pole shift hypothesis is the conjecture that there have been rapid shifts in the relative positions of the modern-day geographic locations of the poles and the axis of rotation of a planet.

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).

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 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 wa
nder 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°.

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 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.

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 high-velocity impact of a massive asteroid or comet.