25 Catastrophic Scenarios If Earth Stopped Spinning

Posted by , Updated on April 21, 2024

The daily motion of the earth as it spins on its axis results in the cycle of day and night – an activity that isn’t connected with the shifts in seasons, as those are caused by the earth’s 23.5° slant towards the sun (refer to point #8 for a more accurate understanding). Have you ever wondered about the consequences if the Earth ceased to rotate all of a sudden? Although it’s a highly unlikely occurrence, predicted to happen only billions of years into the future, it’s still intriguing to consider the catastrophic repercussions. Without the balance of forces created by the Earth’s regular spin, extreme storms would ravage every country worldwide, the oceanic landscapes would dramatically change, new landmasses would emerge while several existing territories full of cities and their inhabitants would be submerged. The world would rapidly descend into chaos, facing the imminent extinction of virtually all life forms. On a more optimistic note, by the time our planet’s rotation would hypothetically cease, the sun would have long since exhausted its life cycle. Learn more about this theoretical scenario in this list titled 25 Catastrophic Events That Could Happen If The Earth Stopped Rotating.



We would go for one heck of a rollercoaster ride

heres-what-would-happen-if-the-earth-stopped-spinningSource: Universe Today, Image: Tech Insider

Gravity keeps us firmly rooted to the planet’s surface, especially useful considering – if on the equator – Earth’s rotation shoots us through space at 1,040 miles per hour (1,674 kmh). Compare this to a transoceanic Boeing 777 which can only reach top speeds of 590 miles per hour. Thus, if the Earth stopped spinning, we would be hurtled sideways at 1,040 miles per hour.


But we wouldn't fly into space

escape velocity formulaSource: Universe Today, Image: UT - Dallas

Some science-fiction films would have us believe if the Earth stopped spinning we would be launched into space. Despite getting hurtled sideways, we would not fly off into space. Since Earth’s escape velocity is 25,020 miles per hour (40,000 kmh), we would not have enough speed – only moving at 1,040 mph – to leave the planet.


A global hurricane would destroy countless cities

Hurricane_Isabel_from_ISSSource: Universe Today, Image: Wikipedia

But, since our atmosphere turns at the same speed, an abrupt stop would create a massively destructive hurricane over nearly our entire planet.


A global tsunami would roll in

tsunami hitting san joseSource: Tech Insider, Image: Angela Riddock via Flickr

Remember Newton’s First Law? An object in motion will remain in motion unless acted upon by an external force. Since our oceans are in constant movement as well, the momentum will hurl them around just like us, creating tsunamis that could reach over 17 miles (27.4 km) inland in less than a minute.


An earthquake would rock the world

The different forces acting on Earth are so perfectly balanced that we rarely experience or notice a change in them. When we do, natural disasters such as earthquakes happen. If our planet were to stop spinning, the delicate balance would be immediately disrupted and earthquakes would be triggered all over the planet.


Fires would ignite everywhere

Deer in river during wildfireSource: Universe Today, Image: Wikipedia

The rapid change in wind speed and the development of hurricanes mentioned in #23 would create a force so strong fires would spontaneously ignite across the planet. (Think about how friction caused by rubbing two sticks together can cause a fire.)


GPS would be thrown off

Sligo-plane-landingSource: Educational Documentary, Image: Wikimedia

Global positioning systems (GPS) use satellites loaded with intricate and elaborate calculations to determine the users’ location on Earth. If our globe stopped rotating, the specific calculations would be thrown off. Though it may not seem like a big deal for your inter-city trip to that fancy new restaurant, planes rely on GPS to get between airports. With GPS’ calculations thrown off, planes will shoot way off course, likely resulting in numerous crashes and fatalities.


The sky we see would be more static

night sky with stars and moonSource: Universe Today, Image: Pixabay

If the Earth stopped spinning, most of what we see in the night sky would, too. The stars in the sky would appear to freeze in place, though we would still notice the other planets continuing their orbits.


The moon would eventually crash into Earth

Moon_Earth_ComparisonSource: io9, Image: Wikimedia

The Moon is currently (slowly) drifting away from Earth. With the Earth stopped, the Moon would slowly drift closer to Earth until it impacts the planet many millions of years in the future.


One day would be a year long

Earth-lighting-winter-solsticeSource: Universe Today, Image: Wikipedia

Today, one day is equal to 23 hours and 56 minutes. If our planet was to stop spinning, the sun would stay over half of Earth for six months and the other half for six months, killing off most plant and animal life. That means a six-month-long day followed by a six-month-long night.


The poles would be mostly unscathed

Polar_bear_with_youngSource: Universe Today, Image: Wikipedia

Since Earth’s rotational velocity diminishes the further away one gets from the Equator, if the Earth stopped spinning, a polar bear or penguin standing on the North or South Pole would feel little disturbance. (Though #11 might prove being there to be a bad idea.)


Sunlight would be blocked from reaching Earth

MtCleveland_eruptionSource: io9, Image: Wikipedia

Dust and debris shot into the atmosphere by a stopped-Earth would likely block out the sun, at least temporarily, as happens when volcanoes spew ash into the sky and as happened during the asteroid impact which killed off the remainder of the dinosaurs.


The sun's pattern would change

sun set over seaSource: Tech Insider, Image: Pixabay

Without the Earth’s normal rotation, the sun would rise in the west and set in the east.


Earth would become a sphere

AYool_topography_15minSource: Universe Today, Image: Wikipedia

As it spins, Earth bulges out at the equator due to rotational velocity. If the Earth were to stop spinning, the 5 miles (8 km) of bulging oceans would redistribute over the planet, flooding many low-lying regions.


Oceans would redistribute

world oceans and land if earth stopped spinningSource: Universe Today, Image: kiwigis.blogspot.com

On a similar coin, since gravity is strongest at the poles, the oceans would concentrate around the North and South Poles, leaving behind one super-continent wrapping around Earth’s equator.


Wind patterns would change

model showing hurricane katrinaSource: NASA, Image: GSFC via Flickr

Current wind systems move in parallel to the equator but would move from the equator to the poles if the Earth stopped spinning, massively altering weather patterns.


The oceans' surface would atomize

US_Navy_101105-N-5684M-121_The_aircraft_carrier_USS_Ronald_Reagan_(CVN_76)_maneuvers_through_fog_in_the_Pacific_OceanSource: io9, Image: Wikimedia

The rapidly moving wind systems would atomize the surface layer of any body of water, including oceans, creating a spray on the surface and waves that would overturn most if not all vessels.


Sea life would die off

turtle shocked under waterSource: io9, Image: Zemlinki via Flickr

The churning of the water would kill off any creature relying on air to breathe and would kill off any creature unable to survive on the low-oxygen water brought up from the cold depths.


Global temperatures would freefall

hand from below waterSource: io9, Image: Pixabay

With our atmosphere largely covered by dust and debris, a dense fog would simultaneously settle over the colder ocean waters, causing temperatures to further drop.


We would be bombarded with radiation

Earth-crust-cutaway-English-Large_labelSource: Universe Today, Image: Wikipedia

Assuming the Earth’s core would simultaneously stop rotating, our planet’s magnetic field would cease to exist. Without this magnetic field, we would be vulnerable to all the host of space radiation that bombards our planet on a daily basis. The waves would irradiate us all and kill us instantly.


The northern lights would disappear

Virmalised,_aurora_borealis_2Source: NASA, Image: Wikimedia

Also known as the Aurora Borealis, the northern lights would cease to exist without a magnetic field.


Seasons would cease to exist

AxialTiltObliquitySource: Universe Today, Image: Wikipedia

Earth’s 23.5° tilt would disappear. The sun would still be strongest at the equator but we would have no seasons.


The sun would appear mostly stationary

Sun_in_hazy_sky_due_to_SoCal_wildfiresSource: NASA, Image: Wikimedia

If the Earth stopped rotating, we would see the sun increase or decrease in the sky only when changing our latitude.


Everyone would be dead

skeletons buriedSource: Universe Today, Image: Wikipedia

If it hasn’t become clear by now, nearly everyone and everything would die.


How to survive

Casa-grotta-matera-underground-roomSource: Universe Today, Image: Wikipedia

But, even though the Earth won’t suddenly stop spinning, to have just a slight chance of surviving, be underground. Being underground and inland would shelter us from the hurricanes and tsunamis that would immediately erupt and would prevent the harmful radiation from reaching us. The problem is you may never be able to leave the underground again.