Research ArticleCLIMATOLOGY

Climate-driven polar motion: 2003–2015

Science Advances  08 Apr 2016:
Vol. 2, no. 4, e1501693
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1501693

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Earth’s spin axis has been wandering along the Greenwich meridian since about 2000, representing a 75° eastward shift from its long-term drift direction. The past 115 years have seen unequivocal evidence for a quasi-decadal periodicity, and these motions persist throughout the recent record of pole position, in spite of the new drift direction. We analyze space geodetic and satellite gravimetric data for the period 2003–2015 to show that all of the main features of polar motion are explained by global-scale continent-ocean mass transport. The changes in terrestrial water storage (TWS) and global cryosphere together explain nearly the entire amplitude (83 ± 23%) and mean directional shift (within 5.9° ± 7.6°) of the observed motion. We also find that the TWS variability fully explains the decadal-like changes in polar motion observed during the study period, thus offering a clue to resolving the long-standing quest for determining the origins of decadal oscillations. This newly discovered link between polar motion and global-scale TWS variability has broad implications for the study of past and future climate.

  • Earth sciences
  • climatology
  • earth’s spin axis
  • polar motion
  • space geodesy
  • terrestrial water storage
  • polar ice sheets
  • hydrology

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, so long as the resultant use is not for commercial advantage and provided the original work is properly cited.

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