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Keywords:

  • true polar wander;
  • large low shear velocity provinces;
  • subduction

[1] Earth's orientation relative to its spin axis is determined by its nonhydrostatic inertia tensor. We show here that the present-day nonhydrostatic inertia tensor can be modeled by combining contributions due to large low shear velocity provinces (LLSVPs) in the lowermost mantle and due to subduction. With the first contribution only, the spin axis would be at ∼67°N, 96°E (north Siberia). The distribution of recent subduction, with largest amounts in the northwest Pacific (beneath East Asia) and the southeast Pacific (beneath South America), adds a secondary contribution which moves the spin axis toward the observed poles. We use plate reconstructions to infer subduction and inertia tensor through time, assuming that the LLSVP contribution has remained constant. Motion of the pole toward Greenland since ∼50 Ma is attributed to increased subduction beneath East Asia and South America and a decrease beneath North America since then. Motion of the pole toward Siberia before that is attributed to large amounts of subduction beneath North America between ∼120 and 50 Ma and decreasing amounts of subduction in East Asia after 60–70 Ma. Greater stability of the spin axis since ∼100 Ma can be attributed to a decrease in the amount of subduction in polar latitudes and an increase in equatorial latitudes.