Earth’s Inner Core Stopped Spinning and Now Has Changed Direction

Yes, you read that headline correctly. The Earth’s inner core has (probably) changed the direction in which it rotates. But fear not, nobody is getting yeeted off the planet’s surface, or cooked by microwaves, or whatever similarly apocalyptic scenario your bad-news-accustomed brain probably just came up with.

According to recent research published in the journal Nature Geoscience, the change has been happening gradually for the last decade. What’s more, researchers believe this isn’t the first time it’s occurred.

Scientists Yi Yang and Xiaodong Song detailed their findings in their paper Multidecadal variation of the Earth’s inner-core rotation, published on Dec. 5, 2022. In it, the duo describes analyzing seismic wave data collected since the 1960s to come to new conclusions.

What they found is the following:

  1. The earth’s inner core has been rotating eastwardly relative to the surface since the 1970s.
  2. Starting somewhere around 2009, the inner core began to slow, eventually pausing its rotation altogether.
  3. Then in 2011, the core started to rotate in the opposite direction.
an illustration of the earth's layers

Scientists believe the earth’s core is divided into a liquid outer layer and a solid inner layer. Illustration: Shutterstock

 

Yang and Song’s findings also indicate the change is part of a pattern that occurs roughly every seven decades. So, no cause for alarm.

“These results help us better understand how the inside of the Earth operates and how the different layers of the system interact as a whole,” the authors told Newsweek. “Such multi-decadal oscillations also exist in the other Earth layers, such as the outer core, mantle and surface, indicating a possible resonating Earth system.”

Will this influence polar navigation?

The earth’s core is divided into two sections — the inner core and the outer core. Scientists believe the inner core is mostly solid iron, while the outer core is liquid iron and nickel.

It’s the outer core that influences the Earth’s magnetic field, causing the changes in magnetic pole location so familiar to polar explorers and cartographical nerds the world over. Since its initial documentation in the early 19th century, the Magnetic North Pole has traveled 2,250km, with the rate of travel increasing dramatically between 1990 and 2005.

According to the science website IFL Science, researchers believe two large blobs of molten material in the outer core are responsible for the dramatic magnetic changes. And while the outer core’s magnetic properties also influence the inner core, it doesn’t appear that the inner core’s change of direction will have any effect on polar navigation.

Upshot: anybody compelled to scour the planet for “Unobtainium” can pause their plans.

Andrew Marshall

Andrew Marshall is an award-winning painter, photographer, and freelance writer. Andrew's essays, illustrations, photographs, and poems can be found scattered across the web and in a variety of extremely low-paying literary journals. You can find more of his work at www.andrewmarshallimages.com, @andrewmarshallimages on Instagram and Facebook, and @pawn_andrew on Twitter (for as long as that lasts).