Applications for CryoSat-2 satellite magnetic data in studies of Earth’s core field variations

Magnus D. Hammer*, Christopher C. Finlay, Nils Olsen

*Corresponding author for this work

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We use 20 years of continuous magnetic field measurements from the Ørsted, CHAMP and Swarm satellite missions, supplemented by calibrated platform magnetometer data from the CryoSat-2 satellite, to study time variations of the Earth’s core field at satellite altitude and at the core–mantle boundary (CMB). From the satellite data we derive composite time series of the core field secular variation (SV) with 4-month cadence, at 300 globally distributed Geomagnetic Virtual Observatories (GVO). A previous gap in the GVO series between 2010 and 2014 is successfully filled using CryoSat-2, and sub-decadal variations are identified during this period. Tests showed that similar sub-decadal SV patterns were obtained from the CryoSat-2 data regardless of whether IGRF-13 or CHAOS-6x9 was used in their calibration. Cryosat-2 radial field SV series at non-polar latitudes have a mean standard deviation level compared to smoothing spline fits of 3.5 nT/yr compared to 1.8 nT/yr for CHAMP and 0.9 nT/yr for Swarm. GVO radial SV series display regional fluctuations with 5–10 years duration and amplitudes reaching 20 nT/yr, most notably at low latitudes over Indonesia (2014), over South America and the South Atlantic (2007, 2011 and 2014), and over the central Pacific (2017). Applying the Subtractive Optimally Localized Averages (SOLA) method, we also map the radial SV at the CMB as a collection of locally averaged SV estimates. We demonstrate that using 2-year windows of CryoSat-2 data, it is possible to reliably estimate the SV and its time derivative, the secular acceleration (SA), at the CMB, with a spatial resolution, corresponding to spherical harmonic degree 10. Along the CMB geographic equator, we find strong SA features with amplitude ±2.5μT/yr2 under Indonesia from 2011–2014, under central America from 2015 to 2019, and sequences of SA with alternating sign under the Atlantic during 2004–2019. We find that platform magnetometer data from CryoSat-2 make a valuable contribution to the emerging picture of sub-decadal core field variations. Using 1-year windows of data from the Swarm satellites, we show that it is possible to study SA changes at low latitudes on timescales down to 1 year, with spatial resolution corresponding to spherical harmonic degree 10. We find strong positive and negative SA features appearing side-by-side in the Pacific in 2017, and thereafter drift westward.
Original languageEnglish
Article number73
JournalEarth, Planets and Space
Issue number1
Number of pages22
Publication statusPublished - 2021

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  • Geomagnetism
  • Secular variation
  • Secular acceleration
  • Earth’s core
  • Platform magnetometer
  • CryoSat-2 satellite
  • Swarm satellite constellation


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