What Exactly is Happening at the Earth’s Core?
A new study indicates the planet’s inner core is slowing its spin. Another core study may also explain why Earth’s north magnetic pole is moving.
There was a bit of a buzz on social media recently that the Earth’s inner core was reversing direction.
The rotation of Earth’s inner core may have paused and it could even go into reverse, new research suggests.
The Earth is formed of the crust, the mantle and the inner and outer cores. The solid inner core is situated about 3,200 miles below the Earth’s crust and is separated from the semi-solid mantle by the liquid outer core, which allows the inner core to rotate at a different speed from the rotation of the Earth itself.
With a radius of almost 2,200 miles, Earth’s core is about the size of Mars. It consists mostly of iron and nickel, and contains about about one-third of Earth’s mass.
In research published in the journal Nature Geoscience on Monday, Yi Yang, associate research scientist at Peking University, and Xiaodong Song, Peking University chair professor, studied seismic waves from earthquakes that have passed through the Earth’s inner core along similar paths since the 1960s to infer how fast the inner core is spinning.
However, the inner core isn’t reversing direction. It’s simply reverting back to a slower spin speed, which research suggests is part of a 70-year oscillation cycle. The core’s behavior can impact the Earth’s magnetosphere and length of day.
The behavior of the core may be linked to minute changes in the length of a day, though the precise details are a matter of debate. The length of a day has been growing by milliseconds over centuries because of other forces, including the moon’s pull on Earth. But ultraprecise atomic clocks have measured mysterious fluctuations.
These variations may line up with changes in the core’s rotation, Song and colleagues argue. The new paper finds that, when they remove predictable fluctuations in the length of a day due to the moon’s tidal forces, there are changes that appear to track with the 70-year oscillations in the inner core’s rotation.
Paul Richards, a seismologist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, worked with Song to put forward the initial evidence that the core was spinning faster than the rest of the planet.
“Most of us assumed that the inner core rotated at a steady rate that was slightly different from the Earth,” Richards said. “The evidence accumulates, and this paper shows that the evidence for [faster] rotation is strong before about 2009, and basically dies off in subsequent years.”
The Earth’s magnetosphere protects the planet from solar radiation and is a significant reason why life can thrive on Earth. The spin of the inner core is important to the generation of the global magnetic field.
The inner core is about 70% of the moon’s radius and is believed to be primarily made of iron. It is believed to be solid.
The outer core is liquid. It is made of iron and nickel and is very hot. The temperature of the core is believed to be 9,800 degrees Fahrenheit.
We know a little more about the Earth’s mantle. It makes up 84% of the Earth’s volume. It is primarily solid but acts sort of like caramel, according to NASA.
The paper states that as the outer core cools, it fuses with the inner core. During this transition, heat is released, generating the Earth’s magnetic field. This, plus the gravity exhibited by the mantle, causes the inner core to spin.
More on this research can be found here for those of you who are interested.
Interestingly, in 2019, I reported that the Earth’s magnetic field was moving erratically and the location of the magnetic North Pole. Another Nature Geoscience study on the core’s behavior may explain this shift.
It is this exact position that is affected by the movements of the planet’s core. And, as this position changes, so too does the North Pole’s location. Scientists say that the current direction of the pole’s movement is caused by a “blip in the pattern” of the flow inside of the Earth’s interior. This blip, they believe, occurred somewhere between 1970 and 1999.
Because the blip happened, the Canadian field of the North Pole itself has become elongated, losing its influence over the Earth’s magnetosphere. This has caused the North Pole’s location to move quickly towards a magnetic field located under Siberia. The researchers say that our northern magnetic pole is controlled by these two patches, or blobs.
And it’s these blobs that have kept the North Pole’s location in a constant state of tug of war. But, because the Canadian portion of this field has elongated and become weaker, the pole’s location has quickly found itself drawn to the field in Siberia.
The study on the pole shift can be found here.
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The pole’s movement isn’t a movement of a real thing. Magnetic field is added up from all over and happens to add to horizontal component zero here and then there.
Conservation of angular momentum strictly constrains earth plus core plus moon dynamics. If the core spins slower, the earth spins faster except for slack taken up by the moon.
That’s what I used to think, but then
(1) I noticed that the sun had gone past vertical around the summer solstice last year. That put me in the tropics, here in the suburbs of NYC. It’s still “too high” in the sky today if you’re in the USA, go take a look. So, impossible or not, it happened. Theory must agree with observation and experiment. So what theory?
(2) I read about a theory of crustal shift. Basically 90% of the earth’s mass doesn’t shift, or maybe shifts opposite, but the top crust (said to be about 60 miles deep) shifts. It shifts because of mass away from the equator, that “wants” to roll down toward the equator in equilibrium. There’s a layer 60 miles down that liquefies periodically, maybe every 12,000 years, and allows this. This allows the conservation of angular momentum.
And neither of these has to do with the imperceptible and barely observable speculative phenomenon Dr. Kaku is talking about.
Bad news for ships sailing to NYC using noon solar sights.
Do they reckon by the stars at night too? There is GPS now.
“It’s still “too high” in the sky today if you’re in the USA, go take a look.”
The magnetic pole and the axis of rotation are two entirely different things.
Indeed. Glad you noticed.
Girls will be boys and boys will be girls,
It’s a shook up, muddled up, mixed up world…
Always liked that tune. I gave up trying to make out words to songs on the portable radios of the time, so all I knew was the tune. Then I listened to the words recently. The singer is very unhappy at the end when he discovers Lola is a boy!
I believe the whole point of the song is that the singer discovers he is not unhappy after all.
The Earth’s magnetic field flips approximately every 200k to 300k years, and I am sure it is related to changes in our core. The last flip happened almost 800k years ago. We are overdue.
What about gas stoves!?!
We need more gas stoves. That is the only thing stopping a flip! The convective radiation of gas stoves keeps the core warm, and flowing continuously in one direction!
Magnetic, shmagnetic, we’ve got a shift of the real poles, the rotational ones! Magnetic too, but that’s less surprising.
Ahh, no. True north does not deviate.
But actually it did, remarkable as that is. You can see how the sun is higher in the sky in the US than 5-6 weeks after winter solstice historically.
You are confused based on perspective. Our axis is tilted, therefore the sun and the stars change position in the sky throughout the year.
NotCoach no I’m not confused. I knew what you’re saying since I was a child. The sun looks like late spring today.
Look, you are just simply mistaken. Let us pretend for a moment that there is a massive coverup by professional astronomers. They are hiding that our inclination change drastically recently. That makes much more sense than the North Pole “moving”. What about amateur astronomers? Are they in on the coverup as well?
Astronomers would certainly have remarked on that by now.
(Fat-fingered an upvote instead of a reply.)
Still working your fat fingers here, without looking outdoors during daytime.
Looking outdoors means squat. Proper measurements by astronomers who watch all this stuff is what matters. And nary a peep has come from them on what you speak.
“Looking outdoors means squat” go get another booster. Why doesn’t a profession always tell the truth? Explain to me why the medical profession has been muzzled and even fooled the past few years on a topic in their central area of presumed competence.
Someone ask Ellen or Whoppi or Colbert what sin we must atone from.
Just eat 30 bugs and recite the Act of Whiteness Contrition.
Covers most everything.
But you have to subscribe to their religion to do that, so that leaves most of us here out.
True, but some of us enjoy the mocking.
As Oscar Wilde said, “A day without laughter is wasted.”
And this is why you should get your wheel bearings repacked every year.
Now I gotta listen to ten years of greenies bitching about “global lubing.”
Interesting post, Leslie. I like how LI keeps us informed about science as well as politics and elections.
This is undoubtedly another symptom of the Climate Crisis™ and the only solution is MOAR GUBMINT!
Don’t forget racism!
What about cisheterornormativism?
Whoopi said if you have any questions, you should ask Jill Biden. She’s a doctor.
With her education and experience with a body wobbling on its axis, Dr. Jill can save the day.
The government is necessary to provide the secret Underpants Gnome Step 2 between “eat more bugs” and “positive climate change.”
Yes, blame glowball warmening.
“Glowball”? That’s far out. Add another “l” and go full Millhouse.
Days are getting longer? No wonder I’m tired!
This is what comes of being rotten to the core.
I’ll see myself out. Tip your waiter.
Save Pangea! Stop Global Continental Drift!
When I was born in 1953, I issued two edicts:
1) I now command that “The Great Depression” be discontinued!
2) The earth’s inner core is spinning too fast! So I also command that it be slowed down before we get spun off into space!
There were more edicts but they aren’t as interesting.
Surely this can be blamed on fracking.
Most assuredly, if one scoops out their own brain and forgets the Earth’s mantle is 1,800 miles thick, and the deepest hole we have ever made is only approximately 7 miles.
“if one scoops out their own brain”
That is the prime criterion for anti-frackers.
They don’t allow fracking in Britain because it “causes” earthquakes of a magnitude that cannot be felt, and can only be detected by precision seismographs.
A few years ago a couple of earnest young things knocked on my door and asked me to sign a petition against fracking. It was obvious that the only kind of answers they had got from others, and the only kind they were expecting, were either “Yes”, or “I don’t want to get involved”, “I don’t know enough about it”, and other kinds of soft “noes” that basically agreed with them but for one reason or another didn’t want to sign. When I told them “No, I support fracking” the look on their faces was priceless. It was as if I’d told them I was from Mars. It had never occurred to them in their lives that there exists anyone who is actually for fracking. Fracking is only supported by filthy rich industrialists who know it’s wrong but they make fortunes from it. And that kind of person doesn’t live in the kind of apartment I do. They just didn’t know what to say.
But they choose truth over facts
You have to remember that those who blame fracking or the other political causes of the Left and are NOT being sarcastic like those above probably have minimal reality testing. The goal of their faith [and yes it is a religion, not subject to any scientific proof] is to blame anything they consider wrong on a) humans, even before there were humans, b) white humans, and c) white male humans.
“…have minimal reality testing.”
There it is. That’s why this for-the-feelz nonsense correlates so strongly with privelege: they’ve led lives of minimal reality testing.”
People of lower class, lower caste, or otherwise on the edge have had their understanding, abilities, and thinking tested often, by reality.
Reality-based arguments don’t work on the hothouse flowers. Ignoring reality-based arguments infuriates folks on the margins, because getting it right or wrong can be literally life or death and they know it.
Denying reality isn’t merely a phenomena of the privileged; there are plenty of low income blacks (“on the edge”) who will swear that white racism is the cause of all their failures and complaints.
Living a reality-based life is a function of cognition and upbringing, as is living the Unicorn Life™.
Clearly, a product of racism.
Next headline will be a renowned expert of measuring and detecting equipment telling of the software glitch that fed the esteemed scientific community false data.
Does that mean that Guam will tip over sooner?
It’s not so much tipping as reorienting itself counterclockwise and steaming off towards Easter Island.
This has shaken my core beliefs.
Funny story (no, honestly…it is!). Many moons ago when I was still young and idealistic and totally not down trodden by life I was on an exercise with the army and one of my tasks as section commander was to build a radio retransmission site on xxx bearing.
So we trudged off with all our kit, got to the site…I took a couple bearings and then proclaimed in a very leaderly voice “we build our site on this bearing” pointing in a particular direction in a very regimental fashion.
Off the lads trot, completing the task in record time when the DS staff came up showing me their compass and asking my why it was 5 degrees off. Quick as a flash I just said “because we are in an area of magnetic anomaly Staff Sargent”, to which he congratulated me for the correct answer and then directed me to pull the site down and start again and THIS time use the correct bearing! 🙂
See, told you it was funny! 🙂
Good thing you didn’t say “True story.”, then we would know it is a lie.
Or start it with “I stumbled across the cleaning lady stuck in a window…” 😇
“I neglected to nutate the deflector shields.”
So are we talking Waterworld II?
Take #1: I’m waiting for the pigeons in Trafalgar Square to start dive-bombing the tourists.
Take #2: This is related to human carbon emissions, right? And racism. It must be due to climate change and racism.
Does this mean we will have to send some people down in a tin can with tank treads and light off a bunch of nuclear bombs to get it to rotate again…..
Much easier, We just get the frackers to use WD-40 instead of water.
I think that’s a job for Bruce Willis.
But we need a bunch of unobtanium, so Jake Sully need to knock off the white savioring.
So you’re saying my toilet is going to spin the other way?
Only if you **** nickels.
Do you want it to?
“The Earth is formed of the crust, the sauce and the cheese and outer pepperoni
Wait a minute…
I thought that noted seismologist and climate expert Algore told us that the earth core was 1,000,000 degrees
1,000,000 degrees Gorius.
Hey, don’t ask me.
I got a solicitation for this set of nonstick pans that the manufacturer claims are “created at a max temperature of 30,000°F.” I thought this was a marvelous claim, given that the surface of the sun is only 10,000°F.