Shear properties of Earth’s inner core constrained by a detection of J waves in global correlation wavefield

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Science  19 Oct 2018:
Vol. 362, Issue 6412, pp. 329-332
DOI: 10.1126/science.aau7649

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A solid and squishy inner core

Earth's inner core is thought to be solid, which means it should support shear waves. However, the small size of the inner core makes detecting shear waves very difficult. Tkalčić and Phạm correlated different types of seismic phases to finally determine the speed of shear waves in Earth's inner core (see the Perspective by Irving). The detection of the waves closes an 80-year quest to find them and confirms a solid, but soft, inner core.

Science, this issue p. 329; see also p. 294


Seismic J waves, shear waves that traverse Earth’s inner core, provide direct constraints on the inner core’s solidity and shear properties. However, these waves have been elusive in the direct seismic wavefield because of their small amplitudes. We devised a new method to detect J waves in the earthquake coda correlation wavefield. They manifest through the similarity with other compressional core-sensitive signals. The inner core is solid, but relatively soft, with shear-wave speeds and shear moduli of 3.42 ± 0.02 kilometers per second and 149.0 ± 1.6 gigapascals (GPa) near the inner core boundary and 3.58 ± 0.02 kilometers per second and 167.4 ± 1.6 GPa in Earth’s center. The values are 2.5% lower than the widely used Preliminary Earth Reference Model. This provides new constraints on the dynamical interpretation of Earth’s inner core.

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