Secular polar motion observed by GRACE

Ki Weon Seo, Jae Seung Kim, Kookhyoun Youm, Jianli Chen, Clark R. Wilson

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


A long-term drift in polar motion (PM) has been observed for more than a century, and Glacial Isostatic Adjustment (GIA) has been understood as an important cause. However, observed PM includes contributions from other sources, including contemporary climate change and perhaps others associated with Earth’s interior dynamics. It has been difficult to separate these effects, because there is considerable scatter among GIA models concerning predicted PM rates. Here we develop a new method to estimate GIA PM using data from the GRACE mission. Changes in GRACE degree 2, order 1 spherical harmonic coefficients are due both to GIA and contemporary surface mass load changes. We estimate the surface mass load contribution to degree 2, order 1 coefficients using GRACE data, relying on higher-degree GRACE coefficients that are dominantly affected by surface loads. Then the GIA PM trend is obtained from the difference between observed PM trend (which includes effects from GIA and surface mass loads) and the estimated PM trend mostly associated with surface mass loads. A previous estimate of the GIA PM trend from PM observations for the period 1900–1978 is toward 79.90° W at a speed of 3.53 mas/year (10.91 cm/year). Our new estimate for the GIA trend is in a direction of 61.77° W at a speed of 2.18 mas/year (6.74 cm/year), similar to the observed PM trend during the early twentieth century. This is consistent with the view that the early twentieth-century trend was dominated by GIA and that more recently there is an increasing contribution from contemporary surface mass load redistribution associated with climate change. Our GIA PM also agrees with the linear mean pole during 1900–2017. Contributions from other solid Earth process such as mantle convection would also produce a linear trend in PM and could be included in our GIA estimate.

Original languageEnglish
Article number40
JournalJournal of Geodesy
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • GIA
  • True polar wander

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Computers in Earth Sciences


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