Articles | Volume 18, issue 5
Research article
08 Sep 2011
Research article |  | 08 Sep 2011

Assimilation of Earth rotation parameters into a global ocean model: excitation of polar motion

J. Saynisch, M. Wenzel, and J. Schröter

Abstract. The oceanic contribution to Earth rotation anomalies can be manifold. Possible causes are a change of total ocean mass, changes in current speed or location and changes in mass distribution. To derive the governing physical mechanisms of oceanic Earth rotation excitation we assimilate Earth rotation observations with a global circulation ocean model. Before assimilation, observations of length of day and polar motion were transformed into estimates of ocean angular momentum. By using the adjoint 4D-VAR assimilation method we were able to reproduce these estimated time series. Although length of day was assimilated simultaneously the analysis in this paper focuses on the oceanic polar motion generation. Our results show that changes in mass distribution and currents contribute to oceanic polar motion generation. Both contributions are highly correlated and show similar amplitudes. The changes in the model done by the assimilation procedure could be related to changes in the atmospheric forcing. Since for geometrical reasons the change of total ocean mass does not project on polar motion, we conclude that the polar motion is mainly generated by a geostrophic response to atmospheric momentum forcing. In geostrophic currents mass displacement and current speed entail each other. This way the large similarity of mass and current generated ocean angular momentum can be explained.