No, the Earth’s Interior Does Not Change Its Spin

Science is hard. Writing about science can also be difficult, although not nearly as difficult as doing real science. And yet we science writers tend to get the science wrong a lot.

That seems to be the case, to a surprising degree, a report this week on new findings that researchers say shows that the rotation of the Earth’s interior slows down as the mantle thickens. it.

It helps to visualize this: The Earth’s interior is a solid sphere surrounded by a liquid exterior. This is how it can rotate at a different speed compared to the outer parts of the planet – it is actually spinning at its own speed in the molten ocean at the center of our planet.

So there have been all kinds of studies using seismic data to try and understand what’s going on in the Earth’s core, which is notoriously difficult to study. To be honest, there are so many arguments and disagreements about the interpretations of all this data, that we don’t have a clear picture of how the foundation works, why it does what it seems to do and how How does all this affect us? surface.

There is indeed disagreement about what a study published this week in Nature Geoscience actually shows.

“This is a very careful study by very good scientists who put in a lot of data,” University of Southern California seismologist John Vidale told AFP. “(But) none of the models really explain all the details in my opinion.”

Many studies over the years have shown that the inner spine accelerates, decelerates and even stops in relation to the rotation of the outer layer. It’s a bit of a mess.

What’s not really happening though, as far as most scientists can tell, is that the Earth’s interior has actually changed and started rotating in the opposite direction, still and what many topics this week are going on about. giving feedback.

“Every article I’ve seen is completely wrong,” astronomer Phil Plait said on Twitter.

I can’t be too hard on the headline writers here. I have made the same mistakes. And just from the lesson in question, it’s easy to see how mistakes were made.

It refers to patterns in the data that suggest “that the internal rotation has just stopped” and “appears to be related to the gradual deviation of the spine.”

You can find press releases from previous research on core rotation that seem to suggest that it changes direction, which Plait says is misleading.

“That’s all speed that rotation has changed,” he wrote in 2022. “It’s like passing a car on the highway; to you it seems to be going backwards, but to the person on the ground it is moving slower than you. Perspective is important here. ”

When scientists talk about “rotation” or “reversal” they are talking about its movement between “super rotation” (rotation faster than the outer parts) and “subrotation” (slow rotation ), but it is always in progress. the same way.

Sometimes scientific language doesn’t work well to frame a speech and can even contradict it, but there is a simple solution for journalists (including me) to remember: you can pick up the phone and double check with the scientists themselves. .

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