Geophysical Research Letters

Polar wandering in mantle convection models



We calculate polar motion in models of 3-D spherical mantle convection at Rayleigh numbers up to 108 which include internal heating, radial viscosity variations, and an endothermic phase change. Isoviscous models yield rapid polar motion of order 3°/Myr, but a factor of 30 increase in viscosity with depth reduces the rate of polar motion to about 0.5°/Myr due to stabilization of the large-scale pattern of convection. Avalanching due to an endothermic phase change causes pulsating inertial interchange polar excursions of order 80–110° and of duration 20–70 Myr. A layered viscosity model with an endothermic phase change yields only one inertial interchange event in 600 million years. These models show that the slow observed rate of post-Paleozoic true polar wander is not incompatible with higher rates inferred for earlier times.