This paper introduces inverse geodynamo modelling, a framework imaging flow throughout the Earth's core from observations of the geomagnetic field and its secular variation. The necessary prior information is provided by statistics from 3-D and self-consistent numerical simulations of the geodynamo. The core method is a linear estimation (or Kalman filtering) procedure, combined with standard frozen-flux core surface flow inversions in order to handle the non-linearity of the problem. The inversion scheme is successfully validated using synthetic test experiments. A set of four numerical dynamo models of increasing physical complexity and similarity to the geomagnetic field is then used to invert for flows at single epochs within the period 1970–2010, using data from the geomagnetic field models CM4 and gufm-sat-Q3. The resulting core surface flows generally provide satisfactory fits to the secular variation within the level of modelled errors, and robustly reproduce the most commonly observed patterns while additionally presenting a high degree of equatorial symmetry. The corresponding deep flows present a robust, highly columnar structure once rotational constraints are enforced to a high level in the prior models, with patterns strikingly similar to the results of quasi-geostrophic inversions. In particular, the presence of a persistent planetary scale, eccentric westward columnar gyre circling around the inner core is confirmed. The strength of the approach is to uniquely determine the trade-off between fit to the data and complexity of the solution by clearly connecting it to first principle physics; statistical deviations observed between the inverted flows and the standard model behaviour can then be used to quantitatively assess the shortcomings of the physical modelling. Such deviations include the (i) westwards and (ii) hemispherical character of the eccentric gyre. A prior model with angular momentum conservation of the core–mantle inner-core system, and gravitational coupling of reasonable strength between the mantle and the inner core, is shown to produce enough westward drift to resolve statistical deviation (i). Deviation (ii) is resolved by a prior with an hemispherical buoyancy release at the inner-core boundary, with excess buoyancy below Asia. This latter result suggests that the recently proposed inner-core translational instability presently transports the solid inner-core material westwards, opposite to the seismologically inferred long-term trend but consistently with the eccentricity of the geomagnetic dipole in recent times.
Times Cited: 0