Earth’s inner core rotates faster than the rest of the planet

Earth’s hot interior is composed of a solid inner core of iron and nickel that is surrounding by a fluid outer core. In 1996, scientists first speculated that the Earth’s inner core was rotating faster than the rest of the planet, but the idea was controversial. The rotation of the inner core is believed to be driven by circulating liquid caused by heat-induced convection currents in the outer core.

For the past decade, scientists have been further investigating the rotation of the Earth’s inner core by analyzing seismic waves that pass through the interior of the Earth. Earthquakes produce seismic waves.

Research published in Science in 2005 and more recently in the February 2011 issue of Nature Geoscience confirms that Earth’s inner core does indeed rotate faster than the rest of the planet. The 2011 estimates suggest that the extra spin may be on the order of 0.1 to 1 degree every million years, a much slower estimate than the values proposed in 1996 and 2005.

The hallmark of good science is that the results are repeatable. Now three scientific studies have confirmed the hypothesis that the Earth’s inner core rotates faster than the rest of the planet. Accurate geophysical information on the structure and movement of the Earth’s interior may help science to develop a more robust understanding of how the Earth generates a magnetic field that is essential to life on the planet.

Stefan Maus on measuring magnetic north

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Energy underfoot: Bringing up heat from inside Earth

February 26, 2011

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