New evidence suggests the Earth’s inner core no longer rotates faster than the planet’s outer layers

The uncertainty of science: The same scientists who in the late 1990s thought they had detected evidence that the Earth’s inner core rotates faster than the planet’s mantle now say that this faster rotation ceased sometime around 2009.

In 1996, Song and another researcher reported studying earthquakes that originated in the same region over three decades, and whose energy was detected by the same monitoring station thousands of kilometres away. Since the 1960s, the scientists said, the travel time of seismic waves emanating from those earthquakes had changed, indicating that the inner core rotates faster than the planet’s mantle, the layer just beyond the outer core.

…Now, Yang and Song say that the inner core has halted its spin relative to the mantle. They studied earthquakes mostly from between 1995 and 2021, and found that the inner core’s super-rotation had stopped around 2009. They observed the change at various points around the globe, which the researchers say confirms it is a true planet-wide phenomenon related to core rotation, and not just a local change on the inner core’s surface.

It is important to note that there has not been a consensus on this data, that some scientists even doubt the super-rotation ever existed. The data itself is sparse enough and includes enough gaps to allow for this disagreement, which also means this new conclusion is also uncertain.

Scientists begin another attempt to drill through the Earth’s crust

An expedition to the Indian Ocean is about to begin an effort to drill a core down through the Earth’s crust and into its mantle.

Geologists have been trying to drill through the contact between the crust and the mantle, called the Moho, since the 1960s, with no success. Either the projects have gone way over budget and been shut down, have failed due to engineering problems, or were stopped by the geology itself. This last issue is maybe the most interesting.

Expeditions have come close before. Between 2002 and 2011, four holes at a site in the eastern Pacific managed to reach fine-grained, brittle rock that geologists believe to be cooled magma sitting just above the Moho. But the drill could not punch through those tenacious layers. And in 2013, drillers at the nearby Hess Deep found themselves similarly limited by tough deep-crustal rocks

This new project hopes to learn from these past problems to obtain the first rock samples from below the Earth’s crust.