Earth science

Planetary wanderlust

    Article metrics

    Earth's continents seem to be drifting westward by around 0.2 degrees every million years. This is a sign that the planet is experiencing true polar wander — the rotation of Earth's solid outer layer relative to its spin axis.

    To distinguish true polar wander from the overlapping motion of individual tectonic plates, Pavel Doubrovine and his colleagues at the University of Oslo defined a new global reference frame, which they consider to be accurate for the past 120 million years. To do so, the researchers used the computed tracks and present positions of volcanic hot spots in the Pacific Ocean and the Indo-Atlantic hemisphere. The rate of true polar wander has increased systematically over the past 40 million years, the team found.

    J. Geophys. Res. (2012)

    Rights and permissions

    Reprints and Permissions

    About this article

    Cite this article

    Planetary wanderlust. Nature 490, 147 (2012) doi:10.1038/490147b

    Download citation


    By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.