Science Alert: A Magnetic Field Reversal Long Overdue

An image of the magnetic field before and during the reversal, created by parallel supercomputers at the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center and the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

An image of the magnetic field before and during the reversal, created by parallel supercomputers at the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center and the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Every day since the beginning of our time on Earth, the center of the magnetic field has been shifting from the North Pole. It has been shifting almost thirty miles every year since the early 1900’s according to the scientists at NASA.  Mr.Fabian, a West Potomac Geosystems teacher, says that there is a ‘geographic north’ and ‘magnetic north’, and that there are rock records showing the changes in our ‘magnetic north’. The reversal could have a drastic effect on us, and on nature. There are many conspiracy theories: Volcanoes, droughts, and the destruction of the Earth’s protective layer. Most of the reversal changes will occur deep within the Earth. This will result in the only noticeable effect will be in our four cardinal directions, as shown by the geological processes happening underneath us for centuries.

According to research made by NASA, shown on their website, “Earth has settled in the last 20 million years into a pattern of a role reversal about every 200,000 to 300,000 years, although it has been more than twice that long since the last reversal,” meaning that we are long overdue for the North to become South, at least according to our compasses.

When a pole reversal occurs, the Earth’s magnetic field weakens, leaving our planet mildly unprotected from solar radiation. Mr.Fabian, a West Potomac Geosystems teacher, says,”It would effect, potentially, migrations… what protects us from the sun is a magnetic field so sometimes solar flares that hit the magnetic field are blocked – it could disrupt that.” Thankfully, the field would not disappear completely, but most likely only becoming temporarily weakened.

During a reversal, the Aurora Borealis can be seen from lower latitudes such as Africa and South America, according to NASA.

The reversal won’t be entirely simple though. When a reversal occurs, the magnetic fields push and pull at each other, with a multitude of poles emerging at odd latitudes throughout the entire process. This matters because if the magnetic fields were stretched too far apart during the reversal, they could ‘snap’: Although, nothing is set in stone, as Fabian reports that a reversal has never occurred in any of our lifetimes so it is hard to make prediction.

The Earth’s magnetic field guides the lava’s magnetization on the ocean floor on both sides of the Mid-Atlantic Rift, where the North American and European continental plates are being spread apart.  There are no volcanic eruptions reported to have occurred, but Fabian believes it is very possible. “I absolutely think that there could be volcanic eruptions, because there is magnetism inside the magma.” That means that the lava would in a sense ‘flip’.

According to the Goddard member, the last major occurrence of a magnetic flip, was about 780,000 years ago, a time when humans were still new to this Earth.

The flow of iron in the Earth’s core creates electric currents, in turn creating the magnetic pole. Due to the moving iron, it means that the source of the Earth’s magnetic field is also moving, unlike a typical magnet on your refrigerator,” according to NASA’s Space Flight Center pioneered by Dr. Robert H. Goddard.

There is no estimate as to when the reversal may happen, or if it is something to be afraid of. If it happens, one thing we can expect: manufacturers of magnetic compasses may see a spike in sales.