Characterization and implications of intradecadal variations in length of day

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Abstract

Variations in Earth's rotation (defined in terms of length of day) arise from external tidal torques, or from an exchange of angular momentum between the solid Earth and its fluid components1. On short timescales (annual or shorter) the non-tidal component is dominated by the atmosphere, with small contributions from the ocean and hydrological system. On decadal timescales, the dominant contribution is from angular momentum exchange between the solid mantle and fluid outer core. Intradecadal periods have been less clear and have been characterized by signals with a wide range of periods and varying amplitudes, including a peak at about 6 years (refs2,3,4). Here, by working in the time domain rather than the frequency domain, we show a clear partition of the non-atmospheric component into only three components: a decadally varying trend, a 5.9-year period oscillation, and jumps at times contemporaneous with geomagnetic jerks. The nature of the jumps in length of day leads to a fundamental change in what class of phenomena may give rise to the jerks, and provides a strong constraint on electrical conductivity of the lower mantle, which can in turn constrain its structure and composition.

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