The news of the ‘moon wobble’, or further instability in the moon’s orbit in the 2030s, comes as devastating floods have been seen worldwide in July, with Germany, Belgium and China seeing sweeping floods across rural and metropolitan areas which have left hundreds missing and thousands homeless.
The study carried out by NASA is the first to take both oceanic and astronomical flood causes into account, with the results indicating that the next moon wobble to occur could see mass high tide flooding across US coasts and beyond, with rising sea levels aligning more closely with lunar cycles set to have a drastic impact on coastal cities and neighbourhoods.
Moon wobbles might sound like a new phenomenon, but they have been occurring since as early as the 1700s, according to NASA.
But the next phase of the shift in the moon’s orbit merits greater concern, scientists have said – here’s why.
What is a ‘moon wobble’?
Unlike the Chandler Wobble, which describes the movements in the Earth’s orbit, a moon wobble describes the fluctuations in the moon’s orbit – with wobbles occurring as a result of changes in the moon’s elliptical orbit and their resulting gravitational pull on the Earth.
Such changes are part of the moon’s natural cycle, in which its 18.6 year span is split down the middle, with half of its cycle seeing more suppressed daily tide levels and the other half amplifying tide levels.
With the moon currently in the latter half of the cycle, it’s easy to see the impact rippling out across the world as flooding appears to have hit much harder than years previously.
Rising sea levels make matters much worse, however, as their continued surge is currently being amplified by the moon’s more extreme gravitational pull on the Earth.
And it is this that NASA scientists believe means that when this half of the moon’s cycle returns in the mid-2030s, the impact on coastal communities worldwide could be devastating.
How is climate crisis making it worse?
The NASA study indicates that while flooding along US coastlines has not yet become too significant or topped flooding thresholds, the next decade “will be a different story” as “global sea level rise will have been at work for another decade”.
With this set to see a huge rise in flooding events across all of the US’ mainland coastlines as well as Hawaii and Guam, the rest of the world is also due to experience the dramatic effects of climate crisis on rising sea levels combined with the amplifying effects of the lunar cycle and moon wobble.
Since satellite data for global sea levels first began to be monitored by NASA in 1993, global sea levels have risen by an average of 3.4 millimetres.
These were most recently recorded in March 2021 as climbing to 96.7 millimetres – an increase by over 10mm in the last five years.
Will the UK be affected by moon wobble flooding?
NASA’s study, while focusing on US coasts and regions likely to be hit hard by nuisance flooding, also indicates similar rises in flood risks for low-lying areas worldwide if sea levels continue to climb.
“Low-lying areas near sea level are increasingly at risk and suffering due to the increased flooding, and it will only get worse,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “The combination of the Moon’s gravitational pull, rising sea levels, and climate change will continue to exacerbate coastal flooding on our coastlines and across the world."
Phil Thompson, assistant professor at the University of Hawaii and lead author of the new study, said: “It’s the accumulated effect over time that will have an impact.
“But if it floods 10 or 15 times a month, a business can’t keep operating with its parking lot under water.
"People lose their jobs because they can’t get to work. Seeping cesspools become a public health issue.”
In the UK, low-lying areas in Scotland with rivers and coasts nearby are among those often prone to flooding, and recent outlooks by climate awareness organisation Climate Central predict that many coastal areas of the UK, including parts of Falkirk, Fife and Glasgow, as well as English areas like Grimsby, Hull and Southport, could be below water level by 2050.
With Scottish climate experts recently warning that Scottish areas like Edinburgh, which was hit by sweeping flash floods and considerable rainfall at the start of this month, could see more severe weather events, it is likely that the impact of the moon wobbles in 2030 will amplify flooding in the UK – particularly when combined with storm surges and an increasingly volatile atmospheric climate.