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Journal Articles Geophysical Journal International Year : 2009

FAST TRACK PAPER: Crustal concealing of small-scale core-field secular variation

Nils Olsen
  • Function : Author
Erwan Thébault
Kumar Hemant
  • Function : Author


The Earth's magnetic field is mainly produced within the Earth's liquid and electrically conducting core, as a result of a process known as the geodynamo. Many other sources also contribute to the magnetic signal accessible to observation at the Earth's surface, partly obscuring the main core magnetic field signal. Thanks to a series of very successful satellites and to advances in magnetic field modelling techniques, considerable progress has, however, been made in the recent years toward better identifying the signal of each of these sources. In particular, temporal changes in the field of internal origin happen to be detectable now in spherical harmonic degrees up to, perhaps, 16. All of these changes are usually attributed to changes in the core field itself, the secular variation, on the ground that the lithospheric magnetization cannot produce such signals. It has, however, been pointed out, on empirical grounds, that temporal changes in the field of internal origin produced by the induced part of the lithospheric magnetization could dominate the core field signal beyond degree 22. This short note revisits this issue by taking advantage of our improved knowledge of the small-scale field changes and of the likely sources of the lithospheric field. We rely on a simple extrapolation of the observed spatial spectrum of the field changes beyond degree 16 and use a forward approach based on a recent geological model of lithospheric magnetization. This leads us to confirm that the main cause of the observed changes in the field of internal origin up to some critical degree, NC, is indeed likely to be the secular variation of the core field, but that the signal produced by the time-varying lithospheric field is bound to dominate and conceal the time-varying core signal beyond that critical degree, in very much the same way the permanent component of the lithospheric field dominates and conceals the permanent component of the core field beyond degree 14. All uncertainties taken into account, we estimate NC to lie between 22 and 24. We, however, also note that in practice, the main limitation to the observation of the core field small-scale secular variation is not so much its concealing by the field of lithospheric origin but its fast changing nature and small magnitude. This leads us to conclude that whereas cumulative small-scale lithospheric field changes might be detected some day, detection of core-field secular variation beyond degree 18 is likely to remain a severe challenge for some time.
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insu-03604907 , version 1 (11-03-2022)





Gauthier Hulot, Nils Olsen, Erwan Thébault, Kumar Hemant. FAST TRACK PAPER: Crustal concealing of small-scale core-field secular variation. Geophysical Journal International, 2009, 177, pp.361-366. ⟨10.1111/j.1365-246X.2009.04119.x⟩. ⟨insu-03604907⟩
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