Satellites help discover a jet stream in the Earth's core

December 19, 2016, University of Leeds
Swarm's three satellites provide a high-resolution picture of the Earth's magnetic field. Credit: European Space Agency

A jet stream within the Earth's molten iron core has been discovered by scientists using the latest satellite data that helps create an 'x-ray' view of the planet.

Lead researcher Dr Phil Livermore, from the University of Leeds, said: "The European Space Agency's Swarm satellites are providing our sharpest x-ray image yet of the . We've not only seen this jet stream clearly for the first time, but we understand why it's there."

"We can explain it as an accelerating band of molten iron circling the North Pole, like the jet stream in the atmosphere," said Dr Livermore, from the School of Earth and Environment at Leeds.

Because of the core's remote location under 3,000 kilometres of rock, for many years scientists have studied the Earth's core by measuring the planet's - one of the few options available.

Previous research had found that changes in the magnetic field indicated that iron in the outer core was moving faster in the northern hemisphere, mostly under Alaska and Siberia.

But new data from the Swarm satellites has revealed these changes are actually caused by a jet stream moving at more than 40 kilometres per year.

This is three times faster than typical outer core speeds and hundreds of thousands of times faster than the speed at which the Earth's tectonic plates move.

Evolution of the magnetic field at the edge of the Earth's core 1999-2016. Credit: Nature Geoscience (2016) and Phil Livermore, University of Leeds

The European Space Agency's Swarm mission features a trio of satellites which simultaneously measure and untangle the different magnetic signals which stem from Earth's core, mantle, crust, oceans, ionosphere and magnetosphere. They have provided the clearest information yet about the magnetic field created in the core.

The study, published today in Nature Geoscience, found the position of the jet stream aligns with a boundary between two different regions in the core. The jet is likely to be caused by liquid in the core moving towards this boundary from both sides, which is squeezed out sideways.

Co-author Professor Rainer Hollerbach, from the School of Mathematics at Leeds, said: "Of course, you need a force to move the liquid towards the boundary. This could be provided by buoyancy, or perhaps more likely from changes in the magnetic field within the core."

Rune Floberghagen, ESA's Swarm mission manager, said: "Further surprises are likely. The magnetic field is forever changing, and this could even make the jet stream switch direction.

Changes in magnetic field at the edge of the Earth's core 1590 -1990. Credit: Nature Geoscience (2016) and Phil Livermore, University of Leeds

"This feature is one of the first deep-Earth discoveries made possible by Swarm. With the unprecedented resolution now possible, it's a very exciting time - we simply don't know what we'll discover next about our planet."

Co-author Dr Chris Finlay, from the Technical University of Denmark said: "We know more about the Sun than the Earth's core. The discovery of this jet is an exciting step in learning more about our planet's inner workings."

Explore further: Changes in strength of Earth's magnetic field mapped

More information: An accelerating high-latitude jet in Earth's core, Nature Geoscience, nature.com/articles/doi:10.1038/ngeo2859

Related Stories

Swarm reveals Earth's changing magnetism

June 20, 2014

(Phys.org) —The first set of high-resolution results from ESA's three-satellite Swarm constellation reveals the most recent changes in the magnetic field that protects our planet.

Swarm's precise sense of magnetism

May 8, 2014

(Phys.org) —Although they were launched only five months ago, ESA's trio of Swarm satellites are already delivering results with a precision that took earlier missions 10 years to achieve.

Magnetic oceans and electric Earth

October 4, 2016

Oceans might not be thought of as magnetic, but they make a tiny contribution to our planet's protective magnetic shield. Remarkably, ESA's Swarm satellites have not only measured this extremely faint field, but have also ...

Recommended for you

Mystery solved for mega-avalanches in Tibet

January 23, 2018

An international scientific effort determined the cause of a highly unusual and deadly glacier avalanche in Tibet in 2016, a new Nature Geoscience paper says.

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

cantdrive85
1 / 5 (1) Dec 27, 2016
The location and alignment of the electric current (jet stream) is likely a result of the Birkeland currents which are directly connected to the Sun. In most branches of science this finding would be compared to experimental data, unfortunately these sciences have been invaded by the theoreticians who can pontificate fancifully about "buoyancy" as being a driving factor here. A course in EM Theory, Circuit Theory, and EE would do them well.
MultiverseFilament
not rated yet Feb 01, 2017
I thought about this when i was wondering about how the moon could continuously face the same face to the earth, and the only plausible way was for the earth to have a 'superconductive' core, just a thin layer, fast spinning and with the other electodynamics this superconductive magnetic positioning of the moon in its beam..The layer would also feed the labryinth of lava rivers that must course through the mantle, that causes the 'regularities' in such things as 'mountain' building. Especially under the growing earth model.

So that makes the earths core a supercapacitor storage capacitor, so energy up and energy down control the rate of spin relative to the connecting sun-earth birkeland currents. A 'pinch' current occurring about once every 8 minutes..and our electrostatic radii to others.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.