The thought experiment: What would happen if the Earth stopped spinning?

If Earth stopped rotating and fell to a standstill, humanity would be in trouble.

21st May 2017
What would happen if the earth stopped spinning? (Raja Lockey)

1. Sudden stop

Sudden stop
© Raja Lockey

If the planet stopped suddenly, everything on the surface would be destroyed, as the atmosphere, oceans and anything not nailed down kept spinning. Even braking to a halt over a minute would mean everything experienced a sideways deceleration of three-quarters of Earth’s gravity, so ‘down’ would feel like it was at an angle of 38° from the vertical. That’s enough to knock over most buildings.

2. Changing continents

Changing continents
© Raja Lockey

If it slowed down over several years, it would still be a disaster. Without centrifugal force, the oceans would move towards the poles, dropping ocean depth by 8km around the equator. Since this is less than the depth of the ocean there, Earth’s water would be divided into two huge polar oceans separated by a belt of land in the middle. Everything north of Spain would be underwater, as well as all of Antarctica.

3. Bake and freeze

Bake and freeze
© Raja Lockey

Once Earth doesn’t spin on its own axis, a day lasts as long as a year. Everywhere receives six months of daylight, gradually heating up the planet to well over 100°C. The huge central continent would get the hottest and any remaining lakes and rivers would boil away and be blown to the poles by fierce winds. Even primitive life would only be possible along a narrow strip at the coast.

 


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