Earth's magnetic poles may be poised to flip

Article by Phil Livermore, Associate Professor of geophysics, University of Leeds and Jon Mound, Associate Professor of Geophysics, University of Leeds

Schematic illustration of the invisible magnetic field lines generated by the Earth, represented as a dipole magnet field. In actuality, our magnetic shield is squeezed in closer to Earth on the Sun-facing side and extremely elongated on the night-side due to the solar wind. Earth's polarity is not a constant. Unlike a classic bar magnet, the matter governing Earth's magnetic field moves around. Geophysicists are pretty sure that the reason Earth has a magnetic field is because its solid iron core is surrounded by a fluid ocean of hot, liquid metal. The flow of liquid iron in Earth's core creates electric currents, which in turn creates the magnetic field. Credit: Peter Reid, The University of Edinburgh
Schematic illustration of the invisible magnetic field lines generated by the Earth, represented as a dipole magnet field. In actuality, our magnetic shield is squeezed in closer to Earth on the Sun-facing side and extremely elongated on the night-side due to the solar wind. Earth’s polarity is not a constant. Unlike a classic bar magnet, the matter governing Earth’s magnetic field moves around. Geophysicists are pretty sure that the reason Earth has a magnetic field is because its solid iron core is surrounded by a fluid ocean of hot, liquid metal. The flow of liquid iron in Earth’s core creates electric currents, which in turn creates the magnetic field. Credit: Peter Reid, The University of Edinburgh

The Earth’s magnetic field surrounds our planet like an invisible force field – protecting life from harmful solar radiation by deflecting charged particles away. Far from being constant, this field is continuously changing. Indeed, our planet’s history includes at least several hundred global magnetic reversals, where north and south magnetic poles swap places. So when’s the next one happening and how will it affect life on Earth?

During a reversal the magnetic field won’t be zero, but will assume a weaker and more complex form. It may fall to 10 percent of the present-day strength and have magnetic poles at the equator or even the simultaneous existence of multiple “north” and “south” magnetic poles.

Geomagnetic reversals occur a few times every million years on average. However, the interval between reversals is very irregular and can range up to tens of millions of years.

There can also be temporary and incomplete reversals, known as events and excursions, in which the magnetic poles move away from the geographic poles – perhaps even crossing the equator – before returning back to their original locations. The last full reversal, the Brunhes-Matuyama, occurred around 780,000 years ago. A temporary reversal, the Laschamp event, occurred around 41,000 years ago. It lasted less than 1,000 years with the actual change of polarity lasting around 250 years.

see caption

Above: Supercomputer models of Earth’s magnetic field. On the left is a normal dipolar magnetic field, typical of the long years between polarity reversals. On the right is the sort of complicated magnetic field Earth has during the upheaval of a reversal.

The alteration in the magnetic field during a reversal will weaken its shielding effect, allowing heightened levels of radiation on and above the Earth’s surface. Were this to happen today, the increase in charged particles reaching the Earth would result in increased risks for satellites, aviation, and ground-based electrical infrastructure. Geomagnetic storms, driven by the interaction of anomalously large eruptions of solar energy with our magnetic field, give us a foretaste of what we can expect with a weakened magnetic shield.

In 2003, the so-called Halloween storm caused local electricity-grid blackouts in Sweden, required the rerouting of flights to avoid communication blackout and radiation risk, and disrupted satellites and communication systems. But this storm was minor in comparison with other storms of the recent past, such as the 1859 Carrington event, which caused aurorae as far south as the Caribbean.

The impact of a major storm on today’s electronic infrastructure is not fully known. Of course any time spent without electricity, heating, air conditioning, GPS or internet would have a major impact; widespread blackouts could result in economic disruption measuring in tens of billions of dollars a day.

In terms of life on Earth and the direct impact of a reversal on our species we cannot definitively predict what will happen as modern humans did not exist at the time of the last full reversal. Several studies have tried to link past reversals with mass extinctions – suggesting some reversals and episodes of extended volcanism could be driven by a common cause. However, there is no evidence of any impending cataclysmic volcanism and so we would only likely have to contend with the electromagnetic impact if the field does reverse relatively soon.

We do know that many animal species have some form of magnetoreception that enables them to sense the Earth’s magnetic field. They may use this to assist in long-distance navigation during migration. But it is unclear what impact a reversal might have on such species. What is clear is that early humans did manage to live through the Laschamp event and life itself has survived the hundreds of full reversals evidenced in the geologic record.

The simple fact that we are “overdue” for a full reversal and the fact that the Earth’s field is currently decreasing at a rate of 5 percent per century, has led to suggestions that the field may reverse within the next 2,000 years. But pinning down an exact date – at least for now – will be difficult.

The Earth’s magnetic field is generated within the liquid core of our planet, by the slow churning of molten iron. Like the atmosphere and oceans, the way in which it moves is governed by the laws of physics. We should therefore be able to predict the “weather of the core” by tracking this movement, just like we can predict real weather by looking at the atmosphere and ocean. A reversal can then be likened to a particular type of storm in the core, where the dynamics – and magnetic field – go haywire (at least for a short while), before settling down again.

The difficulties of predicting the weather beyond a few days are widely known, despite us living within and directly observing the atmosphere. Yet predicting the Earth’s core is a far more difficult prospect, principally because it is buried beneath 3,000 km of rock such that our observations are scant and indirect. However, we are not completely blind: we know the major composition of the material inside the core and that it is liquid. A global network of ground-based observatories and orbiting satellites also measure how the magnetic field is changing, which gives us insight into how the liquid core is moving.

The recent discovery of a jet-stream within the core highlights our evolving ingenuity and increasing ability to measure and infer the dynamics of the core. Coupled with numerical simulations and laboratory experiments to study the fluid dynamics of the planet’s interior, our understanding is developing at a rapid rate. The prospect of being able to forecast the Earth’s core is perhaps not too far out of reach.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article. Graphics added by WUWT

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Dodgy Geezer
February 1, 2017 6:07 am

If we all lower our CO2 emissions and wear magnets on our soles, we can stop this magnetic reversal!
Contribute NOW to the Dodgy Fund ….

Reply to  Dodgy Geezer
February 1, 2017 6:17 am

It’s all that extra mass of the CO2, even though CO2 is such a minute percentage of the atmosphere. See, even that little extra weight gets amplified into a very large effect that causes a catastrophic shifting.
And, obviously, since this shifting clearly follows the rise in CO2 concentration, it MUST be the cause of this shifting. Give me a few years, and I’ll work out the precise math and models for you.

Guy Incognito
Reply to  Robert Kernodle
February 1, 2017 7:14 am

And you will need some money to help you and your staff to work out the math and models, say around USD 100 billion?

Reply to  Robert Kernodle
February 1, 2017 7:42 am

And of course Robert you should also get paid at least 6 figures to find the science that fits your conclusion.

Reply to  Robert Kernodle
February 1, 2017 8:33 am

You forgot to ask for money as well. That is key to the CO2 religion: GRANTS!

Reply to  Robert Kernodle
February 1, 2017 2:18 pm

Spot on!
Auto seeking a grant to relate the consumption of banana smoothies to increased something [CO2, temperature, desperation of watermelons, dunno).
But send the Money. I will investigate whatever you want me to, and – goodness – draw conclusion that you will f u l l y support. Now, don’t be surprised it will be QED.
Auto – happy to receive multi-thousand pound commissions for telling YOU what YOU want to believe.
So, I guess I can add ‘Climate Scientist’ to my business card, if I feel the need to be ridiculed.

Reply to  Robert Kernodle
February 1, 2017 2:45 pm

“The Earth’s magnetic field is generated within the liquid core of our planet, by the slow churning of molten iron. ”
I love the way it is always stated that it is an iron or iron/nickel core like : well iron makes magnets, right, so that explains the earth’s magnitic field.
Trouble is the Currie point of iron well below its melting point, so “molten iron” is NOT magnetic.

Reply to  Robert Kernodle
February 1, 2017 3:11 pm

Greg, doesn’t the Curie point (temp) increase with increased pressure? The pressure in the Earth’s core is quite high.

Reply to  Robert Kernodle
February 1, 2017 4:11 pm

Greg: it’s electro-magnetism, not ferro-magnetism.

Bryan A
Reply to  Robert Kernodle
February 2, 2017 2:13 pm

Well, they do measure it in Tons per year after all.
It must be the overbalance effect.
CO2 tonnage in the ground = better center of mass balance
CO2 tonnage removed from the ground and placed in the air = off balance and Poles flip over

Bryan A
Reply to  Robert Kernodle
February 2, 2017 2:14 pm

Shoulda read that as Carbon balance instead of CO2

Man Bearpig
Reply to  Dodgy Geezer
February 1, 2017 9:06 am

Yeah, I’ll set up a website.

Reply to  Dodgy Geezer
February 1, 2017 12:48 pm

OMG No one knows what they’re talking about. Just let scientists know the results you want and they will gladly provide them for you. All it will take is a lot of money.

Reply to  Sandyb
February 1, 2017 2:21 pm

Apologies – you said it first – and much more succinctly.

Reply to  Dodgy Geezer
February 1, 2017 2:08 pm

Dodgy Geezer:
Are you one of the Dodgy Brothers, that advertised in Australia during the 80’s ? I loved those ads.

Reply to  Hivemind
February 1, 2017 2:14 pm

Reply to  Dodgy Geezer
February 6, 2017 10:22 pm

I was wondering what progressives would think of a bumper sticker that said “fight geomagnetic change, destroy your compasses.”

February 1, 2017 6:07 am

Of course this will be made much worse by man made climate change. /sarc

Reply to  hunter
February 1, 2017 6:35 am

Well of course it is. We have to stop producing electric ASAP ! ( its probably the new wind turbines ) we’ve never had this problem before. I predict catastrophic events. ( we will be selling magnetic field reversal offsets ) All that electrical energy flowing into the ground. The unprecedented rise in the last 150 years is the cause of this. Animals that depend on the field are in danger of going extinct, especially the polar bears. Human fingerprints are all over this one. Rest assured all money sent to me will be used to solicit even more money. (Sarc)

Reply to  rishrac
February 1, 2017 7:08 am

Is it time to buy a home Generator yet?

Reply to  Catcracking
February 1, 2017 11:23 am

In order to save the planet, we have to ban generators. How dare you ! Don’t you care about the polar bears ?! ! There will be millions of magnetic field reversal refugees ! They won’t know which way the sun comes up ! ( sarc)..

Joe Crawford
Reply to  rishrac
February 1, 2017 8:48 am

Actually, it is the magnetic fields generated by the current flow in the high tension power lines modulating the (recently discovered) liquid iron jet-stream within the Earth’s core. We predict that is is highly probable that any future increases in electric power usage and distribution will cause catastrophic disassociation of the Earth’s magnetic field and that we must immediately start reducing electric power usage to levels prior to 1950.

Ian Magness
February 1, 2017 6:10 am

You can bet the mainstream media will blame it on “climate change”.

Reply to  Ian Magness
February 1, 2017 6:29 am

Sorry, they’ll blame Trump!

Reply to  lance
February 1, 2017 6:34 am

Trumps refusal to accept the concept of CAGW.

Reply to  lance
February 1, 2017 6:43 am

The Russians especially Vladimir Poetin.

Reply to  lance
February 1, 2017 2:24 pm

He’s a Poet?
A Piss-taking Tsar, Perhaps, until the last POTUS quit working.
Still, he hasn’t invaded Poland. Yet. So far as I know.

Crispin in Waterloo but really in Jakarta
Reply to  lance
February 1, 2017 6:12 pm

I thought it was the concept of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Magnetism.
It seems the magnetic field has been disrupted by the artificially created rare earth magnets used in wind turbines. Obviously the cause is anthropogenic therefore so too must be the solution.
My proposal includes tin foil hats to block the electromagnetic radiation. Aluminum foil doesn’t work, only tin. The tin from my Bolivian tin mine works 10% better than other tin sources. Reach me at tin@next.con for prices.

February 1, 2017 6:11 am

This is probably why it benefits humans to have a short a lifespan as they do.
Living forever would seem to be so much more emotionally stressful.

Reply to  Robert Kernodle
February 1, 2017 7:16 am

I’m borrowing that.

February 1, 2017 6:14 am

I’m just about to open my lead umbrella business. Going to make me a gazillionaire.

February 1, 2017 6:16 am

surely this is ‘alarmism’?

Reply to  Griff
February 1, 2017 6:28 am

As if you could recognize the same.

Paul Penrose
Reply to  Griff
February 1, 2017 10:29 am

No, this is science. They state what is known, what is uncertain, and what is unknown. They don’t come to any conclusions about how society should react to this knowledge or advocate any particular actions in response.

Reply to  Paul Penrose
February 1, 2017 12:24 pm

Nor are they demanding millions more for further research, or that anyone change their lifestyle based on what they have found.

Sceptical lefty
Reply to  Griff
February 1, 2017 1:21 pm

It’s not seriously alarmism, but it’s not much science, either. This is the same curve-fitting rubbish for which the climate alarmists have been so justly criticised. All you have to do is spot a trend then extrapolate it to its Doomsday climax. There is no understanding of the underlying causes of the observed phenomena but, if you make enough predictions there is a good chance that one will be right, and Science will be vindicated thereby.
Also note the use of weasel-words like “could,” “should,” “might,” etc.
I’m driving my car today. I might have an accident with a chemical tanker and precipitate a local environmental disaster, because I haven’t had an accident for some time and I’m about due for one. On the other hand, I might not. This is “scientific,” trivially true, and absolutely worthless.

Bryan A
Reply to  Sceptical lefty
February 2, 2017 2:33 pm

You didn’t take it to its apocalyptic end though.
Your crash obviously COULD kill you and the chemical tanker MIGHT be carrying the Armies new experimental reanimation chemicals which, once in contact with your dead body, SHOULD bring your now necrotic tissues back to still dead but functioning again. This would make you the Patient Zero Zombie in the new Zombie Apocalypse Plague

February 1, 2017 6:17 am

I would consider this a bigger risk to humanity than an extra 2 degrees C.

Leonard Lane
Reply to  jpatrick
February 1, 2017 9:24 am

Ah Ha! Is the next big “we must do something now! And it ill take $trillions to do it” scam to replace the demise of the global warming scam?

February 1, 2017 6:20 am

On the list of stuff worth worrying about, this one’s right up there with “asteroid awareness.”

Keith J
Reply to  Goldrider
February 1, 2017 6:35 am

Asteroids and other inpactors are a real threat if only due to speed and potential. Every other threat takes years to arrive.

Reply to  Keith J
February 1, 2017 8:23 am

True, but the likelihood of it happening within the next 1,000 years is sufficiently low that we can and (IMO) should move slowly by first building up our technological know-how so that in a few hundred years we can construct a far more capable defensive system than anything we are going to come up with by rushing a solution out the door ASAP.

Reply to  Keith J
February 1, 2017 12:50 pm

Tim, I think the two recent close encounters are reason enough to consider this a real and current risk, certainly worth spending a few billion ‘climate dollars’ setting up warning and defense systems.

February 1, 2017 6:27 am

Looong term funding needed – before it’s too late!

February 1, 2017 6:28 am

Women and minorities hardest hit.
I think if we clap real loud, we can save Tinker Bell.
‘the field may reverse within the next 2,000 years’
Sure, and we may be hit by an asteroid this size of Oklahoma.

Alan McIntire
February 1, 2017 6:28 am

In the last 10 or 20 million years, the earth’s magnetic field has flipped every 250,000 years or so, with no apparent bad effects on our homo egaster ancestors, or on life in general.

Gloateus Maximus
Reply to  Alan McIntire
February 1, 2017 6:46 am

H. ergaster lived 1.9 to 1.4 Ma. The last reversal was the Brunhes-Matuyama, ~786 Ka (781?). Before that, the brief Jaramillo reversal occurred c. 1.07 million to 990,000 years ago. If they averaged 250 K years, then H. ergaster should have experienced two.

Reply to  Alan McIntire
February 1, 2017 8:24 am

But how did their smartphones fare?

February 1, 2017 6:35 am

There has been rapid movement of the north magnetic pole towards alignment with the geographic pole in the last 100+ years. I’ve wondered what implications this movement might have. Odd it is not mentioned above.

Bryan A
Reply to  stevekeohane
February 2, 2017 2:38 pm

Perhaps if/when the North Pole reaches the Geographic North axis point, It will slip down into the vortex and disappear teaving the earth as a Monopole planet before slipping back out in Antarctica some years later.

Gloateus Maximus
February 1, 2017 6:35 am

A flip is long overdue, based upon the more geologically recent past.
Earth has settled in the last 20 million years into a pattern of a pole reversal about every 200,000 to 300,000 years, but the last one was 786 Ka. During the Mesozoic Era, a reversal was more likely to happen only about once per million years.
This 2014 study showed that the flips occur more rapidly than previously thought, taking less than a century instead of hundreds or thousands of years:

William Astley
February 1, 2017 6:42 am

Geomagnetic Excursion Underway
This PBS NOVA documentary is interesting and pertain to the subject of this thread. The NOVA documentary includes interviews of some of the key geomagnetic specialists that have been involved in the formulation of the current geomagnetic field theory (Including Gubbins and the author of the Stern paper. I will provide a link to the papers below.)
The geomagnetic specialists note in the documentary that it appears possible based on the fact that the North pole drift velocity increased by a factor of ten, from 15 km/yr to 55 km/yr starting in the mid 1990s (the abrupt change to north magnetic pole drift velocity was discussed in a previous NOVA documentary which also discussed the discovery of archeomagnetic jerks – sudden changes in the tilt of the geomagnetic field of 10 to 15 degrees – by analyzing ancient fired floor tiles) and the geomagnetic field intensity drop has increased by a factor of ten from 5% per century which it had been dropping at for the last 200 years or so, to 5% per decade (this is the finding of the European SWARM satellite analysis which shows that the drop is over a large region of the earth, concentrated over the North and South America continents) also starting sometime in the 1990’s that a geomagnetic excursion appears to be starting which may lead to a geomagnetic reversal.
As noted in this comment, there is evidence of some large unknown forcing function that causes cyclic geomagnetic field changes and which correlate with cyclic climate change and that for the larger forcing events correlate with sudden anomalous volcanic activity.
What caused the past cyclic abrupt changes to the geomagnetic field is possibly what changed in the mid 1990’s to cause the sudden abrupt change to the geomagnetic field that is causing the north magnetic drift velocity change and the sudden drop in the geomagnetic field strength.
Earth based forcing functions are expected to be chaotic and hence are not expected to be periodic. There is no earth based mechanisms that are capable of causing a sudden and rapid cyclic change of convection flow in the earth’s core or a cyclic change to the earth’s climate.
The authors of this paper note it is anomalous that five volcanoes that have separate magma chambers all erupt within a 100-year period. The authors fail to note that it is also anomalous that there is a geomagnetic excursion (which is rare and unusual event) that is going on at the same time that this anomalous eruption of five unconnected volcanoes is occurring. i.e. It is logical to ask if there is connection between the two events and hence what could cause both events.
Simultaneous Volcanic Eruption Paradox which correlates with a geomagnetic excursion.
Geomagnetic excursion captured by multiple volcanoes in a monogenetic field
Five monogenetic volcanoes within the Quaternary Auckland volcanic field are shown to have recorded a virtually identical but anomalous paleomagnetic direction (mean inclination and declination of 61.7° and 351.0°, respectively), consistent with the capture of a geomagnetic excursion. Based on documented rates of change of paleomagnetic field direction during excursions this implies that the volcanoes may have all formed within a period of only 50–100 years or less. These temporally linked volcanoes are widespread throughout the field and appear not to be structurally related. However, the general paradigm for the reawakening of monogenetic fields is that only a single new volcano or group of closely spaced vents is created, typically at intervals of several hundred years or more. Therefore, the results presented show that for any monogenetic field the impact of renewed eruptive activity may be significantly under-estimated, especially for potentially affected population centres and the siting of sensitive facilities. (/blockquote)
In the late 1990’s it was discovered that there is cyclic abrupt climate change based on the analysis of the Greenland ice sheet core. The abrupt climate change events (Heinrich events, 6000 to 8000 years but fall on the same series as the 1470 year events which indicates they may have the same forcing function) correlate with geomagnetic excursion like changes to the geomagnetic field. The lesser climate change event the Dansgaard-Oeschger events (1470 years) correlate with archeomagnetic jerks.
Also, we wish to recall that evidence of a correlation between archeomagnetic jerks and cooling events (in a region extending from the eastern North Atlantic to the Middle East) now covers a period of 5 millenia and involves 10 events (see f.i. Figure 1 of Gallet and Genevey, 2007). The climatic record uses a combination of results from Bond et al (2001), history of Swiss glaciers (Holzhauser et al, 2005) and historical accounts reviewed by Le Roy Ladurie (2004). Recent high-resolution paleomagnetic records (e.g. Snowball and Sandgren, 2004; St-Onge et al., 2003) and global geomagnetic field modeling (Korte and Constable, 2006) support the idea that part of the centennial-scale fluctuations in 14C production may have been influenced by previously unmodeled rapid dipole field variations. In any case, the relationship between climate, the Sun and the geomagnetic field could be more complex than previously imagined. And the previous points allow the possibility for some connection between the geomagnetic field and climate over these time scales. (/blockquote)

ron long
Reply to  William Astley
February 1, 2017 7:15 am

William, I am a geologist who has detected the general evidence of a magnetic reversal which suggests hundreds of years to complete. I organized an aeromagnetic survey to help a mineral exploration project, Gualcamayo in Argentina, and was surprised to see that the large tactite bodies of magnetite did not show up. When we visited the magnetite bodies, some as large as a house, we quickly discovered they were reversely polarized. Their source intrusion was normally polarized, but another nearby intrusion was reversely polarized. Considering intrusion cooling rates, the temperature difference between the hydrothermal fluids forming the magnetite and the Curie Point temperature (magnetic remnance is only preserved below this point, around 300 deg C) fixing remnance in place, a few hundred years is a reasonable estimate for the process to complete the flip. This personally scares the hell out of me as this magnetosphere is what protects us from the majority of the cosmic ray flux. If solar storms augment cloud formation by ionizing effects in the atmosphere we should see a real climate change. I think I will have a drink and try to calm down.

Reply to  ron long
February 1, 2017 7:51 am

It’s the sun’s magnetic field that protects us from most of the cosmic rays.
The earth’s field is at best a second layer of defense.

Reply to  ron long
February 1, 2017 8:34 am

Marw: It is the other way around. The solar modulation is only a few percent, while the geomagnetic modulation is a factor of two or higher.

Reply to  ron long
February 1, 2017 9:16 am

Depends on the energy range under consideration:

The flux of incoming cosmic rays at the upper atmosphere is dependent on the solar wind, the Earth’s magnetic field, and the energy of the cosmic rays. At distances of ~94 AU from the Sun, the solar wind undergoes a transition, called the termination shock, from supersonic to subsonic speeds. The region between the termination shock and the heliopause acts as a barrier to cosmic rays, decreasing the flux at lower energies (≤ 1 GeV) by about 90%. However, the strength of the solar wind is not constant, and hence it has been observed that cosmic ray flux is correlated with solar activity.

Mike G
Reply to  ron long
February 1, 2017 9:17 am

Isn’t it the atmosphere that provides almost all of the protection for us on the ground?

Reply to  ron long
February 1, 2017 10:03 am

It’s the strength of the field that determines it’s ability to block charged particles. Not how much that field changes over time.

Reply to  ron long
February 1, 2017 10:40 am

Depending on the relative strengths, a 2% variance in the sun’s magnetic field could have more of an impact than a 200% variance in the earth’s magnetic field.

NW sage
Reply to  ron long
February 1, 2017 4:45 pm

Is it possible for very energetic events from the sum to be the cause of the reversals? ie do we know enough about what mechanisms generate the earth’s field to be able to say, with some certainty, that energy from the sun can (or cannot) cause the change?

Reply to  ron long
February 1, 2017 6:28 pm

Fact is, we have no idea how long a reversal takes or what effects it might have. Even if we did, there isn’t anything we could do about it. No sense in worrying. Enjoy that drink and calm down.

Reply to  ron long
February 2, 2017 10:13 am

We’ve had several very energetic events in the last couple hundred years, and no reversal.

February 1, 2017 6:47 am

Earth’s magnetic poles may be poised to flip

Or they may not.
The Laschamp event 41,400 ± 2000 years ago had no noticeable effect on climate or biology.
Strong Solar particle events take place in the Earth every 200-500 years.
Our technological civilization might be more sensitive to disruptions although usually these dangers are overestimated (Y2K effect).
No point in spreading unjustified alarmism.

Reply to  Javier
February 1, 2017 7:08 am

On the other hand the Laschamp Event, the Campanian Ignimbrite super eruption and the extincthion of the neanderthals happened simultaneously, or at least closely enough to chronologically inseparable.

Reply to  tty
February 1, 2017 9:26 am

The extinction of the Neanderthals was a process coincidental with the advance of modern Homo sapiens in Europe, who had previously eliminated all other hominins in Africa, including ancient Homo sapiens, and in Asia.
Super eruption sounds well, but no known relationship to Laschamp event or Neanderthal extinction. We do not know of any eruption that has extincted a species unless endemic to an island with the volcano.

William Astley
February 1, 2017 6:55 am

As noted starting in the 1990s the geomagnetic field north pole drift velocity increased by a factor of 5. Due to the abrupt change sudden change to the geomagnetic field and due to the fact that the earth’s geomagnetic field has decreased by 60% over a large region in the Southern Atlantic the Europeans launched a trio of specialized satellites (called SWARM) to measure the total geomagnetic field and small geomagnetic field changes. The SWARM data found the geomagnetic field intensity is now dropping at 5%/decade, ten times faster than the previous drop of 5%/century and 10 times faster than believed possible if the geomagnetic field is due to internal movement of the liquid core.
As noted in the link in this comment, geomagnetic field research has confirmed for some unexplained reason the geomagnetic field intensity drops by a factor of 5 to 10 every 30,000 years and 100,000 years (correlating with the abrupt climate change events on the earth including the initiation and termination of the interglacial periods.)
The rate of change is orders of magnitude faster than possible if the earth’s magnitude field is caused by changes in liquid core motion.
There are two paradoxes: 1) There is no mechanism to cause cyclic abrupt changes of flow in the earth’s core, 2) As noted in the Wikipedia summary the liquid core acts like a low pass filter so it is physically not possible for changes in the liquid core to abruptly change the geomagnetic field.

Is the geodynamo process intrinsically unstable?
Recent palaeomagnetic studies suggest that excursions of the geomagnetic field, during which the intensity drops suddenly by a factor of 5 to 10 and the local direction changes dramatically, are more common than previously expected. The `normal’ state of the geomagnetic field, dominated by an axial dipole, seems to be interrupted every 30 to 100 kyr; it may not therefore be as stable as we thought.

What Caused Recent Acceleration of the North Magnetic Pole Drift?
The north magnetic pole (NMP) is the point at the Earth’s surface where the geomagnetic field is directed vertically downward. It drifts in time as a result of core convection, which sustains the Earth’s main magnetic field through the geodynamo process.
During the 1990s the NMP drift speed suddenly increased from 15 kilometers per year at the start of the decade to 55 kilometers per year by the decade’s end. This acceleration was all the more surprising given that the NMP drift speed had remained less than 15 kilometers per year over the previous 150 years of observation.
Why did NMP drift accelerate in the 1990s? Answering this question may require revising a long-held assumption about processes in the core at the origin of fluctuations in the intensity and direction of the Earth’s magnetic field on decadal to secular time scales, and hints at the existence of a hidden plume rising within the core under the Arctic.
Why should scientists and society pay attention to the acceleration of NMP drift? The answer lies in what this acceleration may reveal about the Earth’s core, a region that can be studied only through indirect means. Studies show that the large change in secular variation observed in the north ….

Most estimates for the duration of a polarity transition are between 1,000 and 10,000 years.[9]
However, studies of 15 million year old lava flows on Steens Mountain, Oregon, indicate that the Earth’s magnetic field is capable of shifting at a rate of up to 6 degrees per day.[19] This was initially met with skepticism from paleomagnetists. Even if changes occur that quickly in the core, the mantle, which is a semiconductor, is thought to act as a low-pass filter, removing variations with periods less than a few months. A variety of possible rock magnetic mechanisms were proposed that would lead to a false signal.[20]
However, paleomagnetic studies of other sections from the same region (the Oregon Plateau flood basalts) give consistent results.[21][22] It appears that the reversed-to-normal polarity transition that marks the end of Chron C5Cr (16.7 million years ago) contains a series of reversals and excursions.[23]
In addition, geologists Scott Bogue of Occidental College and Jonathan Glen of the US Geological Survey, sampling lava flows in Battle Mountain, Nevada, found evidence for a brief, several year long interval during a reversal when the field direction changed by over 50°. The reversal was dated to approximately 15 million years ago. [24]

The following is additional support for a very, very, rapid change in the geomagnetic field.…/1110.abstract

Extremely rapid directional change during Matuyama-Brunhes geomagnetic polarity reversal
…Two relative palaeointensity (RPI) minima are present in the M-B transition. During the terminus of the upper RPI minimum, a directional change of about 180 ° occurred at an extremely fast rate, estimated to be less than 2 ° per year, with no intermediate virtual geomagnetic poles (VGPs) documented during the transit from the southern to northern hemisphere. Thus, the entry into the Brunhes Normal Chron as represented by the palaeomagnetic directions and VGPs developed in a time interval comparable to the duration of an average human life, which is an order of magnitude more rapid than suggested by current models.…than-expected/

Earth’s magnetic field, which protects the planet from huge blasts of deadly solar radiation, has been weakening over the past six months, according to data collected by a European Space Agency (ESA) satellite array called Swarm. While changes in magnetic field strength are part of this normal flipping cycle, data from Swarm have shown the field is starting to weaken faster than in the past. Previously, researchers estimated the field was weakening about 5 percent per century, but the new data revealed the field is actually weakening at 5 percent per decade, or 10 times faster than thought. As such, rather than the full flip occurring in about 2,000 years, as was predicted, the new data suggest it could happen sooner. Floberghagen hopes that more data from Swarm will shed light on why the field is weakening faster now.

Bloke down the pub
February 1, 2017 7:02 am

I think I’ll buy a few extra candles, just in case.

February 1, 2017 7:11 am

eGads! A complete waste of bits and bytes. There is no scientific information in this piece that gives any hint whatever that a reversal is imminent or even that it is in any way predictable. This and so many other “just so stories” use the old and entirely undependable concept “long overdue” — as in “we are long overdue to a great flood”.
Worse than Climate Science!

February 1, 2017 7:31 am

The Earth magnetic field connects to the Sun’s at times, it seems likely the magnetic fields of the other gas giants, and mercury can push on the various field lines running through the solar system. If it does change, I would expect it to be a jump into alignment with the field at that time. Will it change because of this, might be worth investigating.

Reply to  micro6500
February 1, 2017 8:37 am

The two fields are connected all the time. The magnetic fields of the planets are confined to the planet’s neighborhood and cannot propagate upstream against the solar wind.

Reply to  lsvalgaard
February 1, 2017 9:25 am

The two fields are connected all the time.

How can that happen when the suns magnetic field at least half the time has like poles, instead of opposite poles where I would expect it to connect(if it’s going to connect at all).

Reply to  lsvalgaard
February 1, 2017 9:26 am

“As compared to the Earth’s magnetic field polarity”

Walter Sobchak
February 1, 2017 7:33 am

“Earth’s magnetic poles may be poised to flip”
We’re all gonna die!

February 1, 2017 7:47 am

There’s nothing new in this.
I have been concerned about it, ever since reading the Pelican book, “Understanding the Earth”, by Ronald Fraser, in the 1970’s.
I believe this to be a much greater threat to human life on the planet than “climate change”.
Unfortunately while pole reversal is probably overdue, predicting when it will happen, and the exact form it will take during the transition, is almost impossible and there is probably very little we can do about it in any case.

February 1, 2017 8:03 am

Though there appears to be no correlation between the disruption of the earths magnetic fields and mass extinctions, I wonder if there is a correlation with evolution. Since it appears that evolution happens in fits and spurts and not at a slow and steady pace, could periods of escalated speciation be related to shifts in the magnetic fields catalyzing genetic mutations associated with increased radiation levels.

Reply to  dam1953
February 1, 2017 9:23 am

“Magnetic Reversals and Evolutionary Leaps” by Robert Felix purports to show correlation.

John Stover
February 1, 2017 8:31 am

A few weeks ago there was an article in the Japanese press about a new paper outlining research in the composition of the earth’s molten core. They said there is a large mass of silicon in the core. Does anyone have any further details about this?

February 1, 2017 8:42 am

Oh my! Meteors, field reversals and Trump! Better get out the old Doomsday Clock and move it up a few minutes. Never thought I’d wish to be a microbe. Well, we had a good run at it, didn’t we my fellow humans. Thank you and – – no need to turnout the light, the microbes will survive with or with-out it.

February 1, 2017 8:47 am

It seems many of us look at a scientific paper and its suppositions as alarmist therefore predicting doom and gloom. Magnetic reversal has been long known about and its effects on iron were used as a marker for continental drift in the mid-Atlantic, if memory serves. But the process itself remains (as above) shrouded in mystery.
IMHO, this is research that bears continued investigation – not as anything more than trying to find out how things really work on this world. Who knows, maybe clues to how the Earth’s Core “weather” works would help our limping understanding of atmospheric climate…sure could use a few clues there!

Ross King
Reply to  Michael Bentley
February 1, 2017 9:14 am

It certainly seems like a seething cauldron with vast energy fluxes. Has anyone got comparative figures between the Core and the Troposhperic ‘shell’? My guess is that the former will vastly outnumber the latter.

Moderately Cross of East Anglia
February 1, 2017 8:58 am

Relax – just keep a pot of white paint nearby to brush over yourself if it happens and so deflect the extra radiation, warming , micro-meteorites…..insert your own concern here….etc.

February 1, 2017 9:08 am

All of these magnetic reversals have occurred far in the past where the effects of magnetic fields were at most influencing migration patterns. The level of human advancement to become dependent on electro-magnetic technology introduces a whole new paradigm with regards to electromagnetic fields on a planetary wide scale.
This could have profound effects on systems not prepared for unwanted electromagnetic (EM) interference. The concept of “hardening” components and systems against EM interference has been practiced by the military and most space programs since the discovery of radio. However this practice is not wide spread throughout the commercial sector as it has not, so far, presented much of an issue to justify the added expense of ‘hardening” the product.
We also must be cautious to not conflate this potential into something akin to the present hysteria. Weakening of Earth’s magnetic “deflector” shield only allows the potential of exposure to external EM radiation, not the cause of it nor a greater attractor of it. It is akin to walking around without an umbrella on a cloudy day. If it rains you may get wet, but not having an umbrella doesn’t make the rain more likely.

Tom in Florida
Reply to  rocketscientist
February 1, 2017 9:36 am

Perhaps we might want to reconsider keeping all records in the Cloud without proper backup to a more EM safe environment..

Reply to  Tom in Florida
February 1, 2017 10:09 am

Computers per se are not any more in danger than your toaster, yet the effects can be more devastating. Much like the Y2K non-event even a large CME (coronal mass ejection) wouldn’t “kill” all the servers in the world, not even most of the computers. Locating sensitive information in numerous locations is a very good method of ensuring that it will survive un effected. The issue will be in reconciling all the disparate data sources an delineating which have become corrupted.
Back-up and save…often.

Reply to  Tom in Florida
February 1, 2017 10:17 am

While the total amount of energy created by a large CME is great, it’s rise time is much slower than say a lightning bolt.
It’s the combination of fast rise time and high energy that kills electronics.
Fast rise times with little energy are easily absorbed by the existing surge protectors.
Slow rise times with lots of energy give the circuit breakers plenty of time to respond.
Another thing I was wondering about.
I’ve examined the circuitry in several types of surge protectors. Most of the ones that I have looked at have two types of circuits.
The first is basically an inductor and a capacitor, who’s job is to spread out and absorb the energy from fast spikes in voltage levels. This also gives the circuit breaker portion of the protector time to activate.
10’s to 100’s of millions of these surge protectors have been added by consumers over the last few decades. I wonder if all these protectors plugged into the power grid will help to protect against major surges?

Reply to  Tom in Florida
February 1, 2017 10:47 am

Yes, the addition of numerous “surge” protectors will keep connected electronics from damage due to EMI effects on external transmission systems, yet they will not necessarily protect the internal elements of computers and electronic devices from accumulating electrical charges due to EM impingement. the EMI will effect any conductive surface an build up a static charge. If this potential isn’t properly controlled or bled away it will eventually arc to somewhere you don’t want it. This is well known to anyone who has inadvertently placed a piece of aluminum foil in a microwave oven. The EM field generated by the microwave generator quickly builds an electric charge on the foil and it arcs with nasty results.
Hardening against EMI is a bit more than a surge protector, but essentially the same principle.

Reply to  Tom in Florida
February 1, 2017 12:25 pm

The gradient in the EM field isn’t high enough to produce damaging voltage potentials in electronic devices.
It takes miles of conductor to do that.

Reply to  rocketscientist
February 1, 2017 10:10 am

My understanding was that when a CME hits the earth’s magnetic field, the magnetic field distorts.
It’s this distortion that generates power surges in the electric grid, as the magnetic field that surrounds miles upon miles of distribution lines change.
If the earth’s magnetic field were to weaken, would this mean that there is a weaker magnetic field around those same power lines.
As a result of this, the same amount of distortion would result in a weaker response in the power lines.
On the other hand, a weaker magnetic field might distort more when hit by the same size CME.
It’s possible that a weaker field, combined with greater distortion could result in not that much change in the size of any power response in the power grid.

JJ, too.
February 1, 2017 9:10 am

So recent flagging strength of the mag field will allow more of the suns energy to impinge in the Earth’s atmosphere/oceans/land…especially at the ‘polar’ regions? Is there any way to determine if this increased radiative energy is actually contributing to recent warming? I’m guessing the effect is minimal, but curious if anyone has any knowledge of any cause and effect.

Moderately Cross of East Anglia
February 1, 2017 9:11 am

Oh and if John Stover is right about the Japanese discovering there are masses of Silicon at the core then whoever gets down there first is going to makes a killing making non-stick iron frying pans…

February 1, 2017 9:19 am

Speed up the colonization of Mars I say!

February 1, 2017 9:30 am

We’ll probably be wiped out by supervolcano eruptions before then, like those at Vesuvius or Yellowstone, and a few others. No reason to stress about something you can’t do anything about.

February 1, 2017 9:48 am

ja ja
I knew it
I could not figure out why there has been no warming in the SH
It must be the movement of earth inner core more northward
the elephant in the room….

Reply to  HenryP
February 1, 2017 9:51 am

north east
I think
but you can check it
and realize why the ice at the north pole is melting

February 1, 2017 9:50 am

This crisis calls for an immediate increase in taxes to lower the demand for magnetism. People are going to have to accept a lower standard of living and Government imposed austerity if mankind is to survive. If we make these sacrifices now, future generations will be able to enjoy sustainable magnetic fields.

Tom in Florida
Reply to  FerdinandAkin
February 1, 2017 12:30 pm

I think these tax increases should be applied to making sure we have a renewable magnetic field.

February 1, 2017 10:15 am

In what way is the magnetic field unlike an invisible force field?

Peta from Cumbria, now Newark
February 1, 2017 11:38 am

Reading how a few folks comment on the ‘lack of info’ in the original post, I’m reminded of a program from the BBC Horizon series that went out very recently on exactly this magnetic business.
Full of scare & alarm but very low on actual content.
(Lots of nice computer graphics of Earth’s core but sadly, no sign of Raquel Welch in a fur-lined bikini. sigh)
Seemingly a new instrument onboard Hubble kept going wrong when it passed over the bit of South Atlantic next to Argentina. Apparently there are parts in Argentina itself that actually tiny North Poles when they should be southerly magnetized.
This magnetic anomaly was letting cosmic rays get closer to Earth’s surface than everywhere else and these were upsetting Hubble in its relatively low orbit. And of course this is sign that Earth’s field is decreasing/changing/reversing.
Tell me I’ve remembered wrong but I recall from somewhere that (some) cosmic rays are coming in with the energy content of a cricket ball at 100mph. For a single hydrogen nucleus, that’s quite some and I get to be near 500 Joules.
So, how many of these things are there coming in? Just one per second per square metre is 500W per square metre, presumably mostly scattered in the atmosphere as it crashes its way in/down.
That’s potentially a lot of grunt as regards Climate Change where ‘the average’ solar insolation is 340W per sqm. Presumably Earth equilibrates so that that power is absorbed and becomes the norm but it would make Earth quite exquisitely sensitive to both magnetic changes in the sun and Earth itself?
Do the fantastic all powerful, all seeing, always perfect, always super computer climate models include this?

February 1, 2017 11:43 am

Fun project – use the magnetometers in a billion smartphones to chirp with local mag field strength every so often. Phones know where they are, and their orientation. Look for statistical changes. Limited global coverage though…

Hocus Locus
February 1, 2017 12:02 pm

Al Gore: An Inconvenientest Truthiness [in production] talking points:
Climate Change causes magnetic pole reversals.
Pole reversals cause moonspots.
Moonspots trigger volcanoes.
Volcanoes cause hurricanes to become hurricanier.
Hurricanes generate cosmic rays.
Lots of CO2 causes lots of temperature.
Computer models cause cancer.
Sea level impregnates polar bears.

February 1, 2017 1:22 pm

I’m confused and I’m hoping someone can clarify how magnetic flipping is suppose to occur. As I understand it, the Earths core is made up of an inner core of ferrous magma and an outer core of ferrous magma, each rotating at slightly different speeds. Its the difference in rotating velocities that creates Earths magnetic field. Is someone suggesting that either the inner or outer core changes direction? That’s not going to happen.
So what is the mechanism for our magnetic poles flipping?

Reply to  SMS
February 1, 2017 2:09 pm

In 1967 they didn’t know, but “Understanding the Earth” said in 1967, “Spontaneous rhythmic reversals of the direction of the magnetic field is a well known characteristic of the Faraday disc dynamo”.
I don’t know if modern science has produced an explanation yet!

Moderately Cross of East Anglia
February 1, 2017 1:34 pm

Dear SMS you obviously haven’t seen the explanation in Ice Age four (I think) in which the squirrel rat causes the core to spin and the continents to drift.
Actually isn’t the core a strange sort of crystalline structure that is effectively phase changed into a solid by pressure and heat, while the outer core is liquid and sloshes around producing the magnetic fields. But maybe the Scrat creature is the better explanation.
In reality the serious contributions on various geophysics topics on WUWT are brilliant and enlightening.

February 1, 2017 1:45 pm

So, we’re doomed, then?

Moderately Cross of East Anglia
February 1, 2017 2:09 pm


Dean - NSW
February 1, 2017 3:26 pm

I hate to think what Carbon Capture and Storage will do to the earths core!
Hang on its obviously got something to do with Fraccking!!!
I am going to have some fun at the pub this afternoon winding some greenie mates up. 🙂

Patrick MJD
February 1, 2017 3:48 pm

The US Navy, when mapping the ocean floor in the 50’s, discovered this.

Reply to  Patrick MJD
February 2, 2017 10:15 am

How do you detect magnetic reversals using sonar?

Reply to  MarkW
February 2, 2017 11:44 am

They didn’t use sonar but some sort of magnetic anomaly detector.
As the ocean floor spread out from the Mid-Atlantic ridge, at a rate of approx. 1 cm/year, the magnetic anomalies were “recorded”, as in a giant tape recorder.

February 1, 2017 4:01 pm

I am still skeptical of the core-magnetohydrodynamics theory of the Earth’s magnetic field. Since the Earth typically has a vertical (wrt surface) electric field which implies a +/- distribution of charge vs. height. Since the Earth rotates and the higher (vertical) charge moves faster being farther from the center, wouldn’t that create a magnetic field?

Reply to  scarletmacaw
February 1, 2017 4:04 pm

Damn the lack of an edit function. Scratch the first “since.”

February 2, 2017 6:49 am

somewhere in USA they already had to change a runways path I gather due to nth not being nth there anymore..
I have been watching the spaceweather pages for a fair while
increased radiation in atmosphere in areas and weakening fields allowing more in, may well see some mutation effects
how soon and what? anyones guess.

Paul belanger
February 3, 2017 11:16 am

“Trouble is the Currie point of iron well below its melting point, so “molten iron” is NOT magnetic.”
You are correct.
However, the explanation of molten core magnetic generation is that of the dynamo.
copper is not magnetic either but is the “conductor” for free electrons, guiding them along an appropriate path to generate a current which will generate the magnetic field.
By this same mechanism the molten core acts as a free electron conductor making a “current loop” which in turn generates a magnetic field.

February 5, 2017 6:29 pm

Could it be the sun again?. When the sun goes into a slump the solar wind exert less pressure on earth’s magnetic field and core wobbles about.

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