Timeout called on leap seconds

Time experts in Geneva have failed to agree on whether to scrap so-called "leap seconds" which are occasionally added to clocks to stop them running ahead of the sun.

This content was published on January 20, 2012 - 08:14 and agencies

Around 700 delegates from some 100 countries at an International Telecommunications Union meeting decided to delay any decision on whether to call time on leap seconds. These seconds were introduced in 1972 to help real time - measured by the earth's rotation on its axis and around the sun – catch up with atomic time.

Natural time fluctuates almost imperceptibly due to the earth's irregular rotation, tides and earthquakes.

Thirty-four seconds have been added in the past 40 years to keep up with atomic clocks which are used in the world's most accurate clocks and computer systems. The United States wanted to scrap the practice but Britain, Canada, Germany and China all opposed the move.

With no agreement, the delegates chose to avoid a rare vote. The US initiative, also backed by France, was based on concerns over possible glitches following adjustments to software used in satellites and navigation systems.

In compliance with the JTI standards

In compliance with the JTI standards

More: SWI certified by the Journalism Trust Initiative

You can find an overview of ongoing debates with our journalists here. Please join us!

If you want to start a conversation about a topic raised in this article or want to report factual errors, email us at

Sort by

Change your password

Do you really want to delete your profile?

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Almost finished... We need to confirm your email address. To complete the subscription process, please click the link in the email we just sent you.

Discover our weekly must-reads for free!

Sign up to get our top stories straight into your mailbox.

The SBC Privacy Policy provides additional information on how your data is processed.