The Earth’s Magnetic Poles Are Getting Ready to Flip and The Effect May Be Catastrophic

We can't predict when it will happen. We just know it will.

Earth Magnetic Poles

The only thing that’s constant is change. We all know this. It even applies to the Earth’s magnetic poles.

Once every few centuries, the direction of the compass changes. Instead of pointing north, it points south. And this happens because the Earth’s poles switch places. But not before the Earth’s magnetic field shows signs of weakening first.

The Earth’s magnetic field is like a giant forcefield that protects our planet from harmful cosmic radiation and solar winds. The reason this field exists is the presence of iron surrounded by molten metal in the Earth’s core. As the Earth rotates and the core temperature changes, the molten metal on the outer core boils and churns, creating magnetic field lines.

For the longest time, scientists have estimated that magnetic field weakening happens at the rate of 5% every century. Based on new data, however, the rate seems to be happening much faster — at 5% per decade. This suggests that instead of the flip happening in another 2,000 years, it might be happening sooner.

When poles flip, the magnetic field won’t be gone completely; it will just be alarmingly weaker, down to around 10% of its present strength. Plus, it can also mean the temporary presence of several north and south poles existing simultaneously.

With a weakened magnetic field, the Earth will become exposed to higher and more deadly levels of radiation. If this was to happen today, satellites, aviation, and ground-based electrical infrastructure will all be at risk. Satellites orbiting our atmosphere can get damaged, disrupting all forms of communication. Flying aircraft will need to be rerouted to avoid mid-air collisions. Electric and electronic infrastructure might get shut down, leaving us without electricity and no Internet. And if by chance a powerful solar storm happens to hit us when our magnetic field is at its weakest, it can easily result in an armageddonic scenario that will destroy our technology and cost us billions.

Pole reversal can be temporary (known as an event) and incomplete (referred to as an excursion). In such case, the magnetic poles move away from the poles and move nearer (or sometimes crossover) the equator, before eventually returning to their original positions. The last temporary reversal — called the Laschamp event –happened nearly 41 millennia ago, lasting for less than 1 millennium, with the pole change lasting for about 250 years. On the other hand, the last full reversal — known as the Brunhes-Matuyama reversal — happened some 780 millennia ago.

Because humanity didn’t exist yet during the last full reversal, there’s no telling what its direct impact on us will be. Neither can we predict for sure how animal species will react. What we do know is that humans can survive through a temporary reversal; life in general can still thrive after a full reversal; but it’s uncertain if human life can survive a full reversal.

It’s bad enough that we don’t know what its effect on us might be. It’s even worse that we have yet to develop the  technology that can help us predict when magnetic pole switching will happen because this will entail predicting how the Earth’s core moves.

And being buried below 3,000 kilometers of rock, it can’t be easy.

But, we’re getting there. With the recent discovery of a jet-stream within the Earth’s core, we’re proving that our ability to infer what might be happening deep beneath our planet is improving. Eventually, we’re bound to get it right. Once we reach that level then we’ll hopefully know what we’re in for.

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9 Comments on The Earth’s Magnetic Poles Are Getting Ready to Flip and The Effect May Be Catastrophic

  1. This is both fascinating and frightening, all at the same time. Thanks for continuing to “inform.” Some of us are NOT deniers of science and these types of studies.

  2. Can’t we put something in orbit to block the cosmic rays should our Shield weaken or fail? Just this week I read that it is possible to place a machine far away between Mars and the Sun this will in effect create a shadow across Mars that stops almost all of the cosmic rays. If this can be done why not do it for Earth just in case!

  3. I am confused! Every once in awhile I read about a scientific achievement that could be effective coping with climate change. Placing a satellite or a group of satellites that constantly circle the Earth with lasers beaming into the atmosphere that Target carbon dioxide or other gases making them harmless. Add to that, last week there was a article that crops would fail on Mars because of cosmic radiation and no magnetic electromagnetic Shield. Then a scientist suggested placing a very large satellite that in effect creates a cone or Shadow across Mars by placing it a certain distance between Mars and the Sun. So many Fantastic ideas that are presented as if this technology currently exists but would be too expensive. If the machine or satellite can be created and placed between us and the Sun and turned on then why not create it build it now just in case we need to launch it and use it. It’s confusing to me when I read articles that alarm but offer no cure.

  4. Some articles that I have read suggest we have the technology and know-how right now to place objects in space to block cosmic rays or to Bean certain frequency of lasers into the atmosphere to render certain gases harmless such as carbon dioxide or maybe ozone but we don’t do it because of the tremendous cost perhaps costing several trillions of dollars. For the sake of money we will let Humanity die! There will be a plaque in outer space placed there by some other intelligence that gathered archaeological information about our planet and it will say this planet died because they did not want to spend the paper money to keep themselves alive. However life exists on this planet but about a hundred miles deep inside of the planet and is inaccessible. Humans built elaborate protective deep underground bunkers to ride out the catastrophe. This planet and its people died for no reason other than it cost of money that would be required to protect the planet and all of its people. This kind of thinking precludes us from making first Contact. Humans seem to be insane.

  5. Hopefully we can still launch Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) equipped with nuclear warheads accurately on bad people or whoever. Would hate it we weren’t able to because of a silly magnetic pole reversal.

  6. Power grids are damaged by sudden movement of our strong magnetic field
    when a solar storm strikes. A weakened field is less threat to the grid.
    It will let more radiation through, which causes other problems for life
    and vulnerable electronics. Your refrigerator will probably keep running.

  7. >Hopefully we can still launch Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) equipped with
    >nuclear warheads accurately on bad people or whoever. Would hate it we weren’t able to
    >because of a silly magnetic pole reversal.

    Not to worry, all those missiles will work fine because they are designed to survive
    an EMP. Which is a high blast, to mimic a solar storm hitting Earth’s magnetic field,
    with the purpose of damaging a frenemy’s power grid. Oh joy!

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