• axial shift: a change in the inclination of the earth's axis caused by the entire planet altering its axial orientation in space (the position of the geographic poles and equator is unaffected);
• polar wander: a change in the location of the geographic poles and equator caused by the entire earth, or its outer shell, moving relative to the spin axis, whose inclination remains unchanged.
This section looks at the phenomenon of axial shift.
Scientists disagree on the changes that the inclination of the axis has undergone during the course of the earth's history. Whatever the long-term changes, however, the idea that the axial tilt undergoes a slow oscillation has long been accepted. The earth's obliquity, which is currently 23.44°, is believed to vary between about 21.6° and 24.6° over a period of 41,000 years. These values are based on calculations of the gravitational interaction between the planets. The earth's tilt is currently decreasing and it is believed to have been doing so for the past 10,000 years. Since it is the tilt of the axis that produces the cycle of the seasons, this means that the differences between the seasons are less extreme now than they were 10,000 years ago -- other things being equal, summers are a little cooler and winters are a little warmer.
The axis of each planet in our solar system has a different angle of inclination: Mercury 0°, Venus 177°21', Earth 23°26', Mars 25°12', Jupiter 3°07', Saturn 26°44', Uranus 97°46', Neptune 27°52', and Pluto 119°37'. Venus, Uranus, and Pluto are therefore 'upside down' to some extent, and have a retrograde rotation about their axis, i.e. they rotate clockwise as viewed from 'above' the solar system. The sun's axis is tilted at an angle of 7°15' to the ecliptic. The moon's axis is tilted at an angle of 1.5°.
Modern astronomy claims that all the planets we now see in the solar system formed around 4.6 billion years ago following the collapse of the primordial solar nebula. The contracting cloud of gas and dust developed a dense, slowly rotating core, which was destined to become the sun. It was surrounded by a rotating disk of dust grains, which, as a result of tiny density fluctuations, formed into small clumps or planetesimals (about the size of asteroids), the largest of which accreted matter and eventually grew to the size of planets. The four inner planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars) formed predominantly from dense, rocky materials as heat from the sun caused the volatile ices to evaporate. In the outer regions of the solar system, the four gas giants (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune) formed, which were sufficiently massive to retain large amounts of hydrogen and helium.
Joseph Silk believes that the modern accumulation theory outlined above provides a natural explanation of the direction of revolution and rotation of the planets. He says that although most planets formed from the accretion of many small bodies, Uranus is an exception.
It apparently formed from the coalescence of a few -- perhaps only two -- large bodies. This would result in a random orientation of the axis of rotation, and could account for its tilt of about 90 degrees to the ecliptic. Only planets that formed from many smaller bodies whose individual directions of spin and motion average out, would result in a planet whose spin axis was parallel to that of the sun.
Luke Dones & Scott Tremaine argue that the spins of the four inner planets were probably determined by impacts with a few large bodies while the planets were being formed by the accretion of planetesimals. Gerrit Verschuur speculates that during the earth's formation, a large neighbour, about the size of Mars, slammed headlong into the proto-earth, shaking it from pole to pole, and smashing it sideways so that after the chaos had subsided its axis was tilted. 'Some of the debris from that awesome planet-shaking impact blew outward and was slowed by the planet's gravitational pull to be trapped in orbit to gather into what would someday be called the moon.' Around the same time, similar impacts between protoplanets and objects in nearby orbits allegedly occurred throughout the solar system.
Uranus was impacted so violently that it ended up tilted sideways. Venus was struck so hard that it began to spin in the opposite direction. Something smashed into Mercury with such violence that its outer layers were torn away and, lost to space, fell into the sun. And Mars? An impact tilted its axis but in the aftermath no moon was formed.
Verschuur says that if today the earth were struck by a large asteroid a few hundred kilometres across, it would trigger global earthquakes but would not alter the tilt of the axis. It would take the impact of a Mars-sized object to have a noticeable effect.
In addition to the theory that Venus' retrograde rotation is due to a collision or near-collision with a large asteroid or planetesimal that reversed the direction in which it rotates, other astronomers argue that a close encounter with another celestial body tilted its axis almost upside down.
George Williams challenges the widely held view that the obliquity of the primordial earth was less than 10-15° and has slowly increased during earth history under the sole influence of tidal friction. He says that this view does not consider possible geophysical mechanisms within the earth, such as 'dissipative core-mantle coupling', which would tend to move the axis towards an upright position. He postulates that the primordial earth acquired an obliquity of about 70° from the alleged giant impact that produced the moon, and that the obliquity remained above 54° for most of the Precambrian. This means that the polar regions would have received more solar energy than the equator and glaciers would have grown in low latitudes while the poles stayed ice-free; during the late Proterozoic glaciation (800-600 million years ago), continents at low palaeolatitude were apparently glaciated He holds that the obliquity decreased relatively rapidly from about 60° to about 26° between 650 and 430 million years ago, but has not changed much since then. He claims that this scenario is supported by the climate record.
Although the general view is that during the Phanerozoic (the last 540 million years according to science, or the last 250 million years according to theosophy), normal climatic zonation has prevailed on earth, and there is no evidence for significant departures of the obliquity beyond the supposed current limits of about 21.5-24.5°, this is not universally accepted. According to some scientists, palaeoclimatic and palaeontological data suggest that in the Mesozoic and early Cenozoic the earth's tilt was only 5 to 15°.
Like several other scientists, Williams maintains that many of the other planets are subject to significant changes in obliquity, and he rejects the view that plausible physical mechanisms for substantial changes of obliquity are unknown. Such mechanisms are said to include tidal torques, dissipative core-mantle coupling, planetary impact, resonant axial-orbital precession, and a twist of the orbital angular momentum vector. Some scientists hold that the inclinations of planetary spins axes have undergone large random, or chaotic, variations, due to the gravitational pulls of the other planets. On the basis of detailed orbital calculations, J. Laskar, F. Joutel, & P. Robute reached the following conclusion:
None of the inner planets (Mercury, Venus, the Earth and Mars) can be considered as to have primordial obliquities, and all these planets could have been formed with a near-zero obliquity. The obliquities of these planets could have undergone large-scale chaotic behaviour during their history. Mercury and Venus have been stabilized by dissipative effects, the Earth may have been stabilized by the capture of the Moon, and Mars is still in a large chaotic zone, ranging from 0° to 60°.
Other estimates of the variation in Mars' tilt are 15-35° and 11-49°. Regarding the outer planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune), Laskar et al. argue that their obliquities
are essentially stable, and can thus be considered as primordial, that is, with about the same value they had at the end of the formation of the Solar System. Nevertheless, chaotic behaviour of the obliquities under planetary perturbations could have occurred in an earlier stage of the formation of the Solar System . . .
They believe that in the absence of the moon and the torque it exerts on the earth, the chaotic zone for the earth's axis would extend from 0° to 85°.
2. Polar wander
There are two types of polar wander:
• geographical (or true) polar wander: a shift of the entire earth or some part of it (lithosphere, lithosphere + mantle, or the mantle alone) relative to the spin axis, resulting in a change in the position of the geographic poles on the earth's surface;
• magnetic polar wander: the movement of the magnetic poles with respect to the geographic poles.
The north and south magnetic poles are believed to drift slowly westward around the geographic poles, returning to their original position after a period of a few thousand years.
But how far from the geographic poles do the magnetic poles move over geologic time?
Palaeomagnetism involves the study of the direction and inclination of the magnetic field of rocks of different ages; this information is then used to ascertain the location of a virtual magnetic pole at the time the rocks were formed. Pole locations calculated from measurements on rocks younger than about 20 million years do not depart significantly from the present locations. Going back more than 30 million years, however, successively greater virtual pole distances are revealed. Joining the former, averaged pole positions generates an apparent polar wander path. Different continents yield different polar wander paths, and from this it has been concluded that it is primarily the continents that have wandered rather than the magnetic poles; the apparent wandering of the magnetic poles is allegedly caused by the actual wandering of the continents over the earth's surface, though some degree of true polar wander has not been ruled out.
Palaeomagnetism has many pitfalls, and it is well known that it often yields unreliable results. For instance, palaeomagnetic data imply that during the mid-Cretaceous Azerbaijan and Japan were in the same place! Palaeomagnetic studies of rocks of different ages suggest a different polar wander path not only for each continent, but also for different parts of each continent. When individual palaeomagnetic pole positions, rather than averaged curves, are plotted on world maps, the scatter is huge, often wider than the Atlantic. The further back in time we go, the greater the scatter, suggesting that fossil magnetism becomes less stable with time. Rock magnetism is subject to modification by later magnetism, weathering, metamorphism, tectonic deformation, and chemical changes. This undermines the assumption that the fossil magnetism found in ancient rocks provides an accurate record of the earth's magnetic field at the time the rocks were formed.
Palaeomagnetic data provide an indication of a location's latitude with respect to the former magnetic pole, and it is simply assumed that over long periods of time the magnetic poles will tend to coincide with the geographic poles. However, the geomagnetic field at the present time deviates substantially from that of a geocentric axial dipole. The magnetic axis is tilted by about 11° to the rotation axis, and on some planets much greater offsets are found: 46.8° in the case of Neptune, and 58.6° in the case of Uranus. In the earth's present magnetic field, the magnetic latitude may therefore deviate from the geographic latitude by as much as 2000 km.
There is also strong evidence that the geomagnetic field had long-term nondipole components in the past, though they have largely been neglected. If there were stable magnetic anomalies of the same intensity as the present-day East Asian anomaly (or slightly more intensive), this would render the geocentric axial dipole hypothesis invalid. It is also possible that the magnetic poles have wandered considerably with respect to the geographic poles in former times. Geological, palaeoclimatic, and palaeontological data provide powerful evidence against continental-drift models, and therefore against the current interpretation of palaeomagnetic data.
Palaeomagnetic studies show that some rocks have been magnetized in a direction opposite to that of the present magnetic field. The scientific consensus today is that this means that the global geomagnetic field at the time the rocks formed had a reversed polarity. In at least some cases, however, other explanations are conceivable, such as self-reversal and the existence of regional magnetic anomalies. For instance, a set of palaeomagnetic anomalies from northern and central Europe, eastern Canada, the Gulf of Mexico, and New Zealand, with dates clustering around 12,500 BP, has been interpreted as a global geomagnetic fluctuation (the Gothenburg flip), but the event is apparently not recorded in sedimentary sequences of the same age in southern Europe, the Mediterranean Sea, and western North America.3 Even today there are isolated spots of opposite magnetic polarity in both the northern and southern hemispheres. Whether they occur or not, magnetic reversals should clearly not be confused with inversions of the axis.
In addition to the magnetic axis, three other earth axes can be distinguished: 1. the geographic axis: the line joining the north and south poles, the points of origin for the lines of latitude and longitude; 2. the rotation axis or axis of instantaneous rotation: the line drawn through the earth about which it is actually rotating at any instant; the points where it cuts the earth's surface are called the rotation poles; 3. the axis of figure or axis of maximum moment of inertia: the axis of symmetry of the earth's spheroid, determined by the distribution of mass within the planet.
For everyday purposes, these three axes are so close together that they can be thought of as coinciding. In reality, however, the axis of figure is not exactly coincident with the axis of rotation, and this gives rise to tiny polar motions. These motions produce slight latitude variations, which can be measured as the difference between the geographical latitude and the true astronomical latitude, as measured from the rotation axis. Two discrete periodic oscillations can be distinguished:
one, called the Chandler Wobble, has about a 14-month period [428 days], and the other has a 12-month period. The combination of these two wobbles causes the poles to trace spiral paths out of, around, and eventually back into their mean positions over a period of about 6.5 years. The separation between the actual and mean poles was exceptionally large in about 1952, when they were separated by 12 m (37 feet), or 0.37 arc second (0.37"). Their maximum separation during the 6.5-year period averages about 0.25".
The Chandler wobble is thought to be related to earthquakes, surface wind loads, solar activity, and geomagnetism. However, there is disagreement on whether the wobble excites earthquakes, is partly caused by them, or whether they both have a common cause
The only perfectly stable state of rotation for a planet occurs when it rotates about its axis of figure. An internal redistribution of mass, or a comet or asteroid impact, drags the axis of figure away from the rotation axis, creating an unstable condition. The rotation axis then tries to realign itself with the figure axis; the figure axis precesses about the rotation axis in an ever-decreasing spiral until the two axes again coincide. Strictly speaking, the position of the figure axis is never exactly constant: the weather systems, ocean tides, and even the movement of animals and humans all alter the earth's mass distribution and therefore the position of the figure axis.
This slight axial wobble is not in dispute. However, the occurrence of systematic, large-scale migration of the geographic poles or 'true polar wander' is highly controversial. Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, polar wandering was frequently invoked to explain the evidence for former higher temperatures in the polar regions and former ice sheets at low latitudes. Although nowadays such phenomena tend to be explained primarily in terms of continental drift, some scientists believe that polar wandering has also taken place. Opinions differ on the extent to which changes of mass distribution in or on the earth can alter the position of the spin axis and at what rate, depending mainly on the assumptions made about the inner structure of the earth.
In the 19th century a number of prominent scientists, including Sir George Airy, Sir William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), Sir George Darwin (son of Charles Darwin), and James Clerk Maxwell argued that polar wandering of more than a degree or two was impossible owing to the assumed rigidity of the earth and the stabilizing effect of the equatorial bulge. Evidence that the earth is not perfectly rigid was provided by minor tides in the earth's crust caused by the influence of the moon and sun, and by the discovery of the Chandler wobble in 1884-85.
In 1955 Thomas Gold postulated that large-scale polar wandering could be expected to occur over geological periods of time in a plastically deformable earth: the rotation axis could migrate 90° over a period of about a million years. He stated that if the earth were a perfect sphere instead of a flattened spheroid, 'the smallest beetle walking over it would be able to change the axis of rotation relative to markings on the sphere by an arbitrarily large angle; the axis of rotation in space would change by a small angle only'.
If the material forming the earth yields by flow under stress differences of arbitrarily small magnitude, then polar wandering will occur in response to any exciting force, however small (including that caused by Gold's beetle). However, if the material has a non-zero yield stress, polar wandering will take place only when the excitation stress is sufficient to exceed the threshold. W.H. Munk & G.J.F. MacDonald pointed out that if significant polar wandering were possible, the poles should move so as to place the continents as well as possible on top of the equatorial bulge. The present distribution of the continents ought to place the pole in the vicinity of Hawaii in the equatorial Pacific -- about as far from the present pole as it can get. The fact that the pole is not in the Pacific nor travelling towards it at the expected rate suggests the earth (or at least its outer shell) has sufficient finite strength to withstand the stresses imposed by the continent-ocean system. However, this conclusion can be avoided by assuming that the stresses in question are balanced by just the right distribution of mantle inhomogeneities. If so, changes in the distribution of mass on or in the earth could conceivably trigger polar wandering, though it is also possible that the earth has enough strength to prevent this. The fact that major gravity anomalies are associated with Palaeozoic mountain chains indicates that major stress differences can persist for very long periods.
The debate on the extent of polar wander over the course of geologic history, and on just what moves if true polar wander does occur, is still in progress. The general consensus, based on palaeomagnetism, is that polar wandering has been small -- probably less (perhaps much less) than about 20° over the past 200 million years, and less than about 10° over the past 80 million years. In this view, most of the wandering of the (magnetic) poles implied by palaeomagnetism is explained in terms of continental drift/plate tectonics. An alternative model (wrench tectonics) has been developed by Karsten Storetvedt, who accepts the validity of palaeomagnetism (while admitting it faces many problems) but rejects continental drift. He explains the palaeomagnetic data in terms of in-situ rotations of continental blocks and true polar wander; he argues that the poles have wandered 70° since the mid-Paleozoic, including a 30-35° latitudinal shift around the Eocene-Oligocene boundary.
As already noted, palaeomagnetic data are not reliable enough to support theories of large-scale continental drift or polar wander. Moreover, the evidence that the earth possesses sufficient strength to make significant polar wandering impossible is largely ignored. It is true that the polar motion record collected by the International Latitude Service (ILS) since 1900 indicates that in addition to the 14-month Chandler wobble and the 12-month annual wobble, the rotation pole has a secular drift of about 0.95° per million years towards eastern Canada. But there is no certainty that such motion will continue in the same direction for many millions or tens of millions of years.
J.L. Kirschvink et al. have argued that true polar wander occurred from 535 to 520 million years ago, during the early Cambrian, as a result of a major reorganization of tectonic plates that changed the balance of mass within the earth. The entire lithosphere and mantle rotated about 90°, so that the regions what were previously at the north and south poles were relocated to the equator, and two antipodal points near the equator became the poles. This hypothesis is based mainly on palaeomagnetic data and is therefore highly dubious.
The views of two unorthodox researchers deserve a brief mention. Hugh Auchincloss Brown who died in 1975, believed that the eccentric force of rotation of the growing south-pole ice cap would eventually become so strong that it would cause the earth to tip over 'like an overloaded canoe'. As it did so, the spin axis and equatorial bulge would rapidly migrate through the earth in the opposite direction, so that the inclination of the axis would remain the same. The cataclysm would take place in a single day, in which time the present poles would travel about 80° of latitude, or some 8800 km, so that the ice caps would end up near the equator. The result would be tremendous deluges and seismic activity and the destruction of civilization. Brown believed that similar cataclysms -- caused by gravitational and centrifugal forces -- recurred about every 7000 years. There is no serious evidence to support this theory, which will not work anyway because the Antarctic ice cap could not develop sufficient momentum to capsize the earth.
Peter Warlow15 argued that a near-collision with large cosmic bodies (comets, asteroids, or stray planets), 1000 km or more in diameter, could cause the geographic north and south poles to exchange places on the spin axis, in as little as one day. He held that if the earth turned upside down within the magnetic field, this would explain apparent magnetic reversals. However, Victor Slabinski calculated that a 180° inversion of this type would require a close encounter with a celestial body 31% more massive than Jupiter.
Several scientists see evidence of polar wandering on the moon and Mars. For instance, Kirschvink et al. state: 'The Tharsis volcanic province on Mars, with the largest positive gravity anomaly known from any planet, appears to have reoriented the martian lithosphere to place Tharsis on the equator; similarly, the lunar mascons all lie facing Earth symmetrically about its equator.'
Peter Schultz points out that several large regions of layered and stripped terrain near the present martian equator, roughly 180° apart, bear many similarities to the present polar deposits, and proposes that they represent locations of ancient martian poles. He favours the polar-wander interpretation over the alternative explanations that they are either pyroclastic deposits, or aeolian deposits accumulated during periods when Mars had a very high obliquity. He argues that polar wandering occurred in starts and stops, and that the last major shifts of the poles are related to the formation of the large volcanic shields of Tharsis and Olympus Mons. His scenario depicts a cumulative polar migration of well over 90° over about 4 billion years, each change in pole position involving a shift of less than about 30° over about 100 to 1000 million years. His views have not been universally accepted, and scientists hold differing opinions on the degree of rigidity of Mars and the amount of polar wandering this would permit.18 The global fractures or lineaments on the surface of Mars, as on earth, consist of four main systems oriented approximately E-W, N-S, NE, and NW in relation to the present rotation poles.19 This casts doubt on theories of large-scale polar wander.
In conclusion, polar wander remains today what it has always been: a speculative and unproven hypothesis.
3. Crustal slippage
A catastrophic form of polar wandering is rapid crustal slippage or lithosphere displacement. This hypothetical phenomenon amounts to an accelerated, global-scale version of the official plate-tectonic scenario, in which individual lithospheric 'plates' (rather than the entire lithosphere) move at a rate of a few centimetres per year in relation to one another and to the earth's poles.
One of the main proponents of crustal slippage was Charles Hapgood,1 who died in 1982. He argued that there had been three lithosphere displacements during the past 100,000 years. The north pole was allegedly in Hudson Bay during the last ice age, and moved the 30° (3200 km) to its present location between 17,000 and 12,000 years ago. The pole supposedly shifted to Hudson Bay from the Greenland Sea between 55,000 and 50,000 years ago, and to the Greenland Sea from the Yukon district of Canada between 80,000 and 75,000 years ago.
More recently, the idea of crust displacement has been put forward by populist writers Rand and Rose Flem-Ath, and the idea has been picked up by Graham Hancoc and Colin Wilson. The Flem-Aths assert that before the last supposed crust displacement some 11,500 years ago, Lesser Antarctica (the part pointing to South America) lay further north; it was partly ice-free, had a temperate climate, and was the home of an advanced civilization -- Atlantis! The earth's lithosphere then supposedly underwent a sudden displacement of some 30°, moving the whole of Antarctica into the southern polar circle, resulting in the destruction of Atlantis, whose remains are now buried beneath several miles of ice. While Hancock claims that the cataclysm took place between 14,500 and 12,500 BC with massive aftershocks continuing until 9500 BC, the Flem-Aths believe it took place extremely rapidly around 9600 BC.
The theory of lithosphere displacement ignores masses of contrary evidence about the history of the Pleistocene ice age. There is no evidence of any lithosphere displacements in deep-sea cores, the palaeomagnetic record, glacial chronologies, pollen records, and a wide range of other geological, palaeoclimatic, and palaeontologic data. The claim that a large part of Antarctica was deglaciated prior to 12,000 years ago is unfounded. Paul LaViolette writes:
data from ice cores penetrated through various parts of the antarctic ice cap show that all parts of this continent have been continually glaciated back through the last ice age and that Antarctica's temperature was as much as 9° Centrigrade colder during the last ice age. This invalidates crustal shift theories which instead claim it was warmer.
The crust-shifters also maintain that the north pole was situated in the Hudson Bay area before the last displacement, which caused North America to become deglaciated while Siberia and Alaska became colder. This is contradicted by the fact that during the last ice age the major glacial and interglacial periods in North America, Alaska, Siberia, and Antarctica were more or less synchronous. The final, very cold stage, the Younger Dryas, began around 12,700 BP, and ended around 11,550 BP, with the onset of the Preboreal period of global warming and meltwater flooding. Crust-shifters associate the last supposed crust displacement with the extinction of mammoths and other mammals in Siberia and Alaska, and subscribe to the popular myth that these creatures were instantly frozen in a sudden cataclysm of immense proportions. However, the majority of the frozen remains of mammoths, horses, bison, etc. predate 12,000 BP by up to tens of thousands of years, and the claim that large numbers were flash-frozen and perfectly preserved is false
Hancock and the Flem-Aths tend to confuse the earth's crust with the lithosphere (in contrast to Charles Hapgood, who was far more precise in his use of terms). In modern geological theory, the crust comprises only the upper part of the rigid lithosphere, down to the Moho discontinuity, at an average depth of about 7 km under oceans and 40 km under continents, but it is firmly welded to the underlying mantle. The lithosphere, on the other hand, comprises the crust and the upper layer of the mantle. In plate tectonics, the lithosphere is said to be fractured into separate plates that move with respect to one another on an underlying plastic layer known as the asthenosphere. There is powerful evidence however that this model is untenable. The lithosphere is said to average 70 km in thickness beneath oceans, and to be 100 to 250 km thick under continents. However, seismic tomography (which produces 3D images of the earth's interior) has shown that the oldest parts of the continents have very deep roots extending to depths of 400 km or more, and that the asthenosphere is absent or very thin beneath them. Even under the oceans there is no continuous asthenosphere, only disconnected asthenospheric lenses. These facts render the large-scale movement of individual 'plates' impossible -- to say nothing of the rapid movement of the entire lithosphere!
Modern crust-shifters claim that lithosphere displacement is caused primarily by an imbalance of ice at the polar caps, whereas Hapgood, their mentor, came to reject this mechanism as inadequate. Instead he hypothesized that they might be caused by gravitational imbalances (uncompensated masses) within the lithosphere or immediately below it, but was unable to provide any concrete evidence for this. The Flem-Aths have suggested that the entire mantle and crust might move rapidly and as a unit over the earth's core, but they are merely clutching at straws, and have no idea how the physics of such an unlikely event might work.
Finally, mention should be made of a few catastrophist writers who postulate a combination of axial shift and 'crust' displacement. Immanuel Velikovsky (1895-1979), for example, argued that about 4000 years ago Venus was born as a 'comet' ejected from Jupiter and proceeded to wander the solar system. The earth was supposedly involved in near collisions with Venus and Mars around 3500 and 2700 BC, resulting in devastating catastrophes, including poleshifts and crustal slippage. To support this wild tale, Velikovsky offered evidence from ancient literature, traditions, and folklore, and some geologic evidence of past cataclysms. However, there is no evidence of global catastrophes at the times he claimed. For instance, the debris allegedly deposited in earth's atmosphere by Venus 3500 years ago, which supposedly caused 40 years of darkness, left no trace in the world's ice caps or ocean sediments.
Paul Dunbavin13 has argued that around 3100 BC the earth suffered a comet impact in the oceans which caused the rotation poles to wander by up to 1° and the axial tilt to oscillate between about 20° and 26° until settling down to its modern value around 800 BC. Over the same period, the number of days in a year supposedly increased from 360 to 365.25. Dunbavin sees evidence for this scenario in the pattern of sea-level variations, climatic and geological changes, and ancient myths and legends. He even claims that Plato's Atlantis was really the British Isles, including the surrounding shelf areas and a former small island in the Irish Sea, which were submerged as the sea level rose some 5000 years ago.
D.S. Allan and J.B. Delair have argued that around 9500 BC an astronomical body ('Phaeton'), projected by a supernova explosion, passed through the solar system causing untold havoc. It resulted in a displacement of the earth's crust, a shift of its axis, the sinking of large landmasses in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, and widespread extinctions and climatic change. They believe that the axis was virtually upright before this cataclysm. They abolish the whole of the Pleistocene period, claiming that the succession of glacial and interglacial periods is an illusion; the fairly mild climate of the Pliocene was supposedly brought to a close by the Phaeton catastrophe, which issued in a very brief ice age of a few hundred years at the start of the Holocene or Recent period. The evidence they cite, however, is not sufficient to support this extreme catastrophist scenario.
4. Psychic predictions
A number of psychics, with the help of their 'spirit guides', have offered dramatic and generally conflicting accounts of past and future poleshifts. All their 'prophecies' have so far failed to come true.
According to one interpretation of his obscure writings, Nostradamus1 prophesied that a poleshift would occur in 1999 or 2000. At the end of the century the world was also supposed to be in the throes of a terrible war, Armageddon.
Edgar Cayce (1877-1945) was highly successful at giving medical diagnoses while in a trance state. He also provided information -- mostly unverifiable -- on the past lives of his subjects and made prophecies for the future. He asserted that the earth had undergone many cataclysmic shiftings of its poles -- by which he appears to have meant some form of crust displacement rather than a change in the inclination of the axis. He suggested that another poleshift would occur at the end of the 20th century. It would be preceded by several decades of increasingly severe seismic disturbances, including the submergence of most of Japan, much of Northern Europe, and many parts of the Atlantic and western coasts of the US, and the emergence of new land in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. And it would be followed by the reappearance of Christ! Cayce stated that 10.5 million years ago the present polar regions 'turned to where they occupied more of the tropical and semi-tropical regions'. Many earth changes, extending over a period of 200,000 years, are said to have occurred during the Atlantean culture, including a displacement of the spin axis. A 'changing of the poles' around 50,772 BC is said to have led to the destruction of the giant animals that had allegedly overrun the earth.
Aron Abrahamsen3 maintained that a major poleshift would occur in 1999 or 2000 within the space of a few days, resulting in the displacement of the present polar regions by about 90°. It would be followed by the return of Christ. He stated that poleshifts are caused by interplanetary forces (especially electromagnetism) and human thought forms; if enough people improved the quality of their thoughts and deeds, such disasters could therefore be averted. The most recent major poleshift allegedly occurred in 70,000 BC, and another took place about 147,000 years ago.
Paul Solomon predicted that there would be a poleshift on 5 May 2000, involving a crustal displacement of about 40°, in which the close passage of Mars would play a key role. It would be followed by the Second Coming of Christ. Ruth Montgomery5 asserted that the last shift of the axis occurred around 48,000 BC, when Lemuria was submerged. Atlantis was relatively unaffected and continued as the world's foremost civilization for another 20,000 years, before being destroyed by a technological disaster. She forecast another poleshift for the late 1990s, followed (of course) by the return of Christ.
Michio Kushi, founder of the East-West Foundation in Massachusetts, claimed that there had been thousands of poleshifts (crustal displacements), including shifts of a full 90°. Several had occurred in the last quarter of a million years, most recently 12,000 years ago, prior to which the north pole was in the north Atlantic, slightly southwest of the British Isles. Another poleshift is predicted in the near future.
The Stelle Group claims to be descended from Lemuria (or Mu), where civilization supposedly began 78,000 years ago and which was submerged 26,000 years ago as a result of a poleshift. There were also poleshifts in 8500 BC and 5000 BC, involving a 'minor' crustal slippage of 30°. The Group say they are following the instructions of higher intelligences (Masters) under the direction of archangel Melchizedek. After the battle of Armageddon (which was supposed to begin in 1998, but has apparently been postponed!) there will be a poleshift (crustal slippage) of 90° in the year 2000, caused mainly by a rare planetary alignment. After this wholesale destruction, Melchizedek will establish the Nation of God on Lemuria, which will reappear above the waters of the Pacific.
The ideas of submerged continents and lost civilizations, and of global cataclysms (including poleshifts) ushering in a new golden age of spiritual regeneration, are clearly 'in the air'. However, as the above selections show, the accuracy of the visions and predictions of ordinary (untrained) psychics leaves much to be desired. In general, the more remote the issues being considered are from individual people's lives, the more the information provided by such psychics tends to degenerate into psycho-babble!
5. Ancient traditions
References to many different types of cataclysms, including poleshifts, can be found in the literature and mythology of numerous nations and peoples, as the following examples show. This does not of course mean that the descriptions are intended as literal descriptions of historical events; mythology is a complex mixture of fact, allegory, and symbolism, often woven into a dramatic narrative.
In the Book of Enoch (64:1, 3), we read: 'In those days Noah saw that the earth became inclined, and that destruction approached. . . . And he said, Tell me what is transacting upon earth; for the earth labours, and is violently shaken.'
In the Bible (King James Version), we find the following:
Behold, the Lord maketh the earth empty, and maketh it waste, and turneth it upside down, and scattereth abroad the inhabitants thereof. . . . The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard . . . (Isaiah 24:1, 20)
Immediately after the tribulation of those days [prior to the Second Coming] shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken . . . (Matthew 24:29)
The earth shook, the heavens also dropped at the presence of God: even Sinai itself was moved at the presence of God . . . (Psalms, 68:8)
The last two quotations could refer to a change in the declination of the stars, as would result from a poleshift
According to Ovid's account of the deluge catastrophe, the chariot of the sun, driven by Phaeton, changed direction, the horses pulling it broke loose from their course and rushed aimlessly, knocking against the stars, and the constellations of the Cold Bears tried to plunge into the ocean. In the Timaeus Plato says that this 'signifies a declination of the bodies moving around the earth and the heavens'. In the same work he describes a cataclysm in which the earth moves 'forwards and backwards, and again to right and left, and upwards and downwards, wandering every way in all six directions'.
The paradisical Eden, Asgard, Meru, or Airyana Vaejo are said to have enjoyed a perennial spring-like climate, despite their traditional northern or polar location -- indicating that the axis must have been more or less upright. The Greek astronomer Anaxagoras taught that during the Golden Age the stars revolved in a tholiform manner (i.e. in a horizontal plane), a belief shared by another Greek astronomer, Anaximenes. Diogenes Laertius added that at first the polestar always appeared in the zenith, but afterwards acquired a certain declination. Similar references can also be found in ancient Japanese cosmogony and Chinese traditions.
For the Egyptians, a large fiery circle symbolized the cosmos, and a serpent with a hawk's head represented the pole. When the latter was placed across the diameter of the circle, it symbolized the pole of the earth lying in the plane of the ecliptic. The Harris Magical Papyrus speaks of a cosmic upheaval of fire and water when 'the south becomes north, and the earth turns over'.
Hopi mythology speaks of the creation of four worlds, three of which were destroyed in succession. The first world was destroyed by fire and volcanoes. In the creation of the second world, land was put where water was, and water where the land was. When the time came for its destruction, the 'pole twins' left their posts at the north and south ends of the world's axis, where they were stationed to keep the earth properly rotating. The world teetered off balance, spun around crazily, then rolled over twice. Mountains plunged into seas, the land was inundated, and the earth froze into solid ice. Eventually the pole twins were ordered back to their stations at the poles. With a great shudder and a splintering of ice the planet began rotating again. As the ice melted, the world began to warm to life, and the third world was created. It was destroyed by waves higher than mountains which rolled in upon the land. Continents broke asunder and sank beneath the seas. The present (fourth) world will be destroyed by a poleshift and flooding, unless we change our nature sufficiently to prevent it.
The Pawnee Indians of North America preserved memories of a remote time when the north and south polar stars 'changed places' or 'went to visit each other'. They believed that a similar cataclysm would happen at the end of the world, when there would be a great flood, the skies would move, and the stars would come to earth. The Eskimos of Greenland recalled a time when the earth tilted over and all people were drowned in the sea. The Andaman Islanders fear a repetition of a great natural disaster that occurred in the days of their remote ancestors when the world capsized.
The Norse Edda refers to shifts in the position of the Midgard serpent, Midgard being our planet, and the serpent denoting the equator, ecliptic, or Milky Way. According to a Norse legend, the wolf Fenrir, who had been chained up by the gods, managed to break his bonds and escape. He shook himself and the world trembled. The ash tree Yggdrasil (the earth's axis) was shaken from its roots to its topmost branches. Mountains crumbled or split from top to bottom, and the stars came adrift in the sky.
One ancient Chinese work, consisting of 4320 volumes, tells of the consequences that followed when mankind rebelled against the gods and the universe fell into disorder: 'The planets altered their courses. The sky sank lower towards the north. The sun, moon, and stars changed their motions. The earth fell to pieces and the waters in its bosom rushed upwards with violence and overflowed the earth.'
Many legends refer to long periods of darkness when the light of the sun vanished from the sky, while others speak of the sun not setting for long periods of time. One possible interpretation is that such stories refer to the 'age of horror', when the earth's axis is tilted at 90°, and there would be continuous darkness during the winter months and continuous daylight during the summer months. Norse mythology teaches that before the present order of things, the sun rose in the south, and it places the frigid zone in the east, whereas now it is in the north. This, too, could be a graphic way of referring to a time when the earth was inclined at 90°.