Forget global warming, worry about the MAGNETOSPHERE: Earth’s magnetic field is collapsing and it could affect the climate and wipe out power grids
Earth’s magnetic field has weakened by 15 per cent over the last 200 years
Could be a sign that the planet’s north and south poles are about to flip
If this happens, solar winds could punch holes into the Earth’s ozone layer
This could damage power grids, affect weather and increase cancer rates
Evidence of flip happening in the past has been uncovered in pottery
As the magnetic shield weakens, the spectacle of an aurora would be visible every night all over the Earth
By Ellie Zolfagharifard
Deep within the Earth, a fierce molten core is generating a magnetic field capable of defending our planet against devastating solar winds.
The protective field extends thousands of miles into space and its magnetism affects everything from global communication to animal migration and weather patterns.
But this magnetic field, so important to life on Earth, has weakened by 15 per cent over the last 200 years. And this, scientists claim, could be a sign that the Earth’s poles are about to flip.
The Earth’s protective field extends thousands of miles into space and its magnetism affects everything from global communication to animal migration and weather patterns
Experts believe we’re currently overdue a flip, but they’re unsure when this could occur.
If a switch happens, we would be exposed to solar winds capable of punching holes into the ozone layer.
The impact could be devastating for mankind, knocking out power grids, radically changing Earth’s climate and driving up rates of cancer.
‘This is serious business’, Richard Holme, Professor of Earth, Ocean and Ecological Sciences at Liverpool University told MailOnline. ‘Imagine for a moment your electrical power supply was knocked out for a few months – very little works without electricity these days.’
The study claimed that the planet is experiencing a natural period of low cloud cover due to fewer cosmic rays entering the atmosphere.
Radiation at ground level would also increase, with some estimates suggesting overall exposure to cosmic radiation would double causing more deaths from cancer.
Researchers predict that in the event of a flip, every year a hundred thousand people would die from the increased levels of space radiation.
‘Radiation could be 3-5 times greater than that from the man-made ozone holes. Furthermore, the ozone holes would be larger and longer-lived,’ said Dr Colin Forsyth from the Mullard Space Science Laboratory at UCL.
The magnetosphere is a large area around the Earth produced by the planet’s magnetic field. It presence means that charged particles of the solar wind are unable to cross the magnetic field lines and are deflected around the Earth
The magnetosphere is a large area around the Earth produced by the planet’s magnetic field. It presence means that charged particles of the solar wind are unable to cross the magnetic field lines and are deflected around the Earth.
Space agencies are now taking the threat seriously. In November, three spacecraft were launched as part of the SWARM mission to uncover how the Earth’s magnetic field is changing.
The mission plans to provide better maps of our planet’s magnetic field and help scientists understand the impact of space weather on satellite communication and GPS.
‘Whilst we have a basic understanding of the interior of the Earth, there is much we still don’t know,’ said Dr Forsyth.
‘We do not fully understand how the Earth’s magnetic field is generated, why it is variable and the timescales of these variations.’
The mission will provide a current map of Earth’s magnetic field. But historic evidence of its decline has already been found in a surprising source – ancient pottery.
Scientists have discovered that ancient pots can act as a magnetic time capsule. This is because they contain an iron-based mineral called magnetite. When pots form, the magnetite minerals align with the Earth’s magnetic field, just like compass needles.
WHAT IS GEOMAGNETIC REVERSAL?
The Earth’s magnetic field is in a permanent state of change. Magnetic north drifts around and every few hundred thousand years the polarity flips so a compass would point south instead of north. The strength of the magnetic field also constantly changes and currently it is showing signs of significant weakening.
The Earth magnetic field is mainly generated in the very hot molten core of the planet. The magnetic field is basically a dipole (it has a North and a South Pole). Magnetic reversal or flip is the process by which the North Pole is transformed into the South and vice versa, typically following a considerable reduction in the strength of the magnetic field. However, weakening of the magnetic field does not always result in a reversal.
During a reversal, scientists expect to see more complicated field pattern at the Earth’s surface, with perhaps more than one North and South Pole at any given time. The overall strength of the field, anywhere on the Earth, may be no more than a tenth of its strength now.
The Earth’s magnetic field is generated in the very hot molten core of the planet. Scientists believe Mars used to have a magnetic field similar to that on Earth which protected its atmosphere
By examining pottery from prehistory to modern times, scientists have discovered just how dramatically the field has changed in the last few centuries.
They’ve found that Earth’s magnetic field is in a permanent state of flux. Magnetic north drifts and every few hundred thousand years the polarity flips so a compass would point south instead of north.
If the magnetic field continues to decline, over billions of years, Earth could end up like Mars – a once oceanic world that has become a dry, barren planet incapable of supporting life.
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