Sources of the Geomagnetic Field and the Modern Data That Enable Their Investigation

Nils Olsen, Gauthier Hulot, Terence J. Sabaka

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The geomagnetic field one can measure at the Earth’s surface or on board satellites is the sum of contributions from many different sources. These sources have different physical origins and can be found both below (in the form of electrical currents and magnetized material) and above (only in the form of electrical currents) the Earth’s surface. Each source happens to produce a contribution with rather specific spatio-temporal properties. This fortunate situation is what makes the identification and investigation of the contribution of each source possible, provided appropriate observational data sets are available and analyzed in an adequate way to produce the so-called geomagnetic field models. Here we provide a general overview of the various sources that contribute to the observed geomagnetic field, and of the modern data that enable their investigation via such procedures. The Earth has a large and complicated magnetic field, a major part of which is produced by a self-sustaining dynamo operating in the fluid outer core. What is measured at or near the surface of the Earth, however, is the superposition of the core field and of additional fields caused by magnetized rocks in the Earth’s crust, by electric currents flowing in the ionosphere, magnetosphere and oceans, and by currents induced in the Earth by the time-varying external fields. The sophisticated separation of these various fields and the accurate determination of their spatial and temporal structure based on magnetic field observations is a significant challenge, which requires advanced modeling techniques (see e.g., Hulot et al. 2007). These techniques rely on a number of mathematical properties which we review in the accompanying chapter by Sabaka et al. (2010), entitled “Mathematical Properties Relevant to Geomagnetic FieldModelling”. But as many of those properties have been derived by relying on assumptions motivated by the nature of the various sources of the Earth’s magnetic field and of the available observations, it is important that a general overview of those sources and observations be given. This is precisely the purpose of the present chapter. It will first describe the various sources that contribute to the Earth’s magnetic field (Sect. 1) and next discuss the observations currently available to investigate them (Sect. 2). Special emphasis is given on data collected by satellites, since these are extensively used for modeling the present magnetic field. We will conclude with a few words with respect to the way the fields those sources produce can be identified and investigated, thanks to geomagnetic field modeling.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook of Geomathematics
Editors Willi Freeden, M. Zuhair Nashed, Thomas Sonar
Publication date2014
ISBN (Print)978-3-642-54550-4
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-642-54551-1
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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