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A view of the Earth from space. What shape does it look like to you?
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The Equator is Growing!
News story originally written on August 7, 2002

Earth may look like a giant marble from space, but it is not exactly round! It is a little wider around the equator, like a tangerine. But Earth's shape does not stay the same! Scientists have been watching Earth's equator as it shrinks and grows.

We cannot see the small changes in Earth's shape when we are standing on the planet. Scientists have watched the equator grow smaller for many years by looking at Earth from space with satellites. The equator shrinks when glaciers at the poles melt and the heavy ice is no longer pushing on the poles, making new space for molten rock (magma) under the Earth's surface. The magma moves from under the equator to under the poles and the equator gets smaller!

But for the past four years, scientists have been watching the equator do something different. It has been growing larger! Why would the equator start growing instead of shrinking? The scientists have a couple of ideas. Maybe molten rock has been moving deep within the Earth to the equator because of small changes in Earth's magnetic field. Maybe ocean water from melting glaciers is piling up at the equator carried by ocean currents.

Whatever the reason, the scientists think this change is natural and is not something people need to worry about.


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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF