– A sudden reversal of the Earth’s magnetic field may sound like quite an unlikely event, but the findings of a recent study suggest that it may actually happen in our lifetime.
The analysis of the ancient sediments at the bottom of the Italian lakes allowed scientists to find out when the magnetic poles of the Earth flipped for the last time, and to conclude that a new geomagnetic reversal could take place in less than 100 years from now.
An international team of scientists from Italy, France and the United States managed to determine the age and duration of the last polarity transition. In their study, the scientists used argon-argon dating method to bottom sediments at Dry Lake, located in the Apennine Mountains near the town of Sulmona, east of Rome. The sediments had well-preserved traces of our planet’s magnetic field lines in their structure, which allowed the researchers to reveal their past directions.
The findings showed that the last reversal of the Earth’s magnetic poles occurred 786,000 years ago. Moreover, it seems that it took very little time for the reversal to happen – about 100 years. Previously, it was thought that a process like this would take thousands of years.
“What’s incredible is that you go from reverse polarity to a field that is normal with essentially nothing in between, which means it had to have happened very quickly, probably in less than 100 years. We don’t know whether the next reversal will occur as suddenly as this one did, but we also don’t know that it won’t,” said Paul Renne, professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and co-author of the study.
The study also found that the last geomagnetic reversal was preceded by a long period of the magnetic field instability, which lasted more than 6,000 years. According to the researchers, during this time, the magnetic field of the planet had significantly weakened. It seems that the same is happening now: according to the data collected by a European Space Agency (ESA) satellite in July of this year, the Earth’s magnetic field is weakening 10 times faster than expected.
So, what consequences will the transition of the Earth’s polarity have for humanity?
Here is a small piece extracted from a PreventDisease.com article:
“How Humans Are Affected
A 2006 review of research on cardiovascular health and disturbances in the geomagnetic field in the journal Surveys in Geophysics (DOI: 10.1007/s10712-006-9010-7) concluded that a link was possible between human health and geomagnetism and that the effects seemed to be more pronounced at high latitudes.
A 2006 Australian study, for example, also found a correlation between peaks in suicide numbers and geomagnetic activity (Bioelectromagnetics, vol. 27 p 155).
Flip Could Affect Electrical Grid and Cancer Rates
Sprain and Paul Renne, director of the Berkeley Geochronology Center and a UC Berkeley professor-in- residence of earth and planetary science, are coauthors of the study, which will be published in the November issue of Geophysical Journal International.
The discovery comes as new evidence indicates that the intensity of Earth’s magnetic field is decreasing 10 times faster than normal, leading some geophysicists to predict a reversal within a few thousand years.
Though a magnetic reversal is a major planet-wide event driven by convection in Earth’s iron core, there are no documented catastrophes associated with past reversals, despite much searching in the geologic and biologic record. Today, however, such a reversal could potentially wreak havoc with our electrical grid, generating currents that might take it down.
And since Earth’s magnetic field protects life from energetic particles from the sun and cosmic rays, both of which can cause genetic mutations, a weakening or temporary loss of the field before a permanent reversal could increase cancer rates. The danger to life would be even greater if flips were preceded by long periods of unstable magnetic behavior.
“We should be thinking more about what the biologic effects would be,” Renne said.
Coronal mass ejections from the sun will also affect Earth significantly during this transition.””
Magnetic field reversals have always been a popular subject of speculation about the end of the world. However, the consequences of this process are unlikely to be as destructive as described by some media outlets. There is no scientific evidence to confirm the link between the previous geomagnetic reversals and any significant disasters that ever occurred on our planet.
Yet, in our time, the flip of the magnetic poles could still have tangible consequences for us and, in particular, our electronics and systems of communication. Moreover, because of the falling intensity of the planet’s magnetic field, the reduced protection from ultraviolet radiation and cosmic rays may increase the risk of cancer, even though it is not confirmed yet. Further research should be done to study the potential consequences of the geomagnetic reversal for humans and other living beings on our planet.