Did Earth's Magnetic Field Have a Fast Flip-Flop?

By Joseph Calamia | September 3, 2010 4:32 pm

magnetosphereHad compass-toting Boy Scouts existed around fifteen million years ago, they may have had a fun time making it through the forest. New geological research questions if the Earth’s magnetic field changed, at that time, at the remarkable pace of one degree per week, leading to a particularly fast magnetic pole flip.

In a paper to appear in Geophysical Research Letters, Scott Bogue and Jonathan Glen suggest that the Earth’s magnetic field changed 53 degrees in one year’s time, based on their study of preserved lava flows in Nevada. As the solid rock formed from cooling liquid lava, it preserved a pattern corresponding to the “super-fast” geomagnetic field reversal, the researchers believe. This is the second time that Bogue has controversially argued for the existence of such speedy flips, finding hints of a faster one in 1995.

In 1995 an ancient lava flow with an unusual magnetic pattern was discovered in Oregon. It suggested that the field at the time was moving by 6 degrees a day–at least 10,000 times faster than usual. “Not many people believed it,” says Scott Bogue of Occidental College in Los Angeles. [New Scientist]

Geological recordings of the Earth’s magnetic field usually indicate that these north-south magnetic somersaults only happen once every couple hundred thousand years, and they occur in slow motion, taking around 4,000 years to complete the reversal. Though scientists aren’t sure what causes these flips, some point to electricity-conducting liquid iron spinning in the Earth’s core, since the “geodyno” formed from the currents are thought to be responsible for the Earth’s magnetic field in the first place.

The new findings are likely to prompt a new wave of debate, and even Bogue notes that the rock patterns he spotted may have another explanation. The crystals in the rock that show a speedy magnetic field change may be anomalous, he told New Scientist–a “burst of rapid acceleration” in an otherwise slow and steady process.

Some geologists say we’re currently headed for another flip, as Science News reports, given the fact that the Earth’s magnetic field has weakened over the last century, but even a super-fast flip might not mean much for your daily life.

But apocalyptic SyFy channel movies to the contrary, nobody should worry about waking up one morning to geomagnetic havoc, says Bogue. “To geologists a polarity reversal is a nearly instantaneous thing that changes a global feature of the Earth—it’s really a spectacular phenomenon,” he says. “But if you were alive when it was happening, it probably wouldn’t be that big a deal.” [Science News]

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Image: NASA

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Physics & Math
  • http://Untitledvanityproject.blogspot.com Rhacodactylus

    Dear God, think of all the pre twentieth century ships that will be lost at sea!

  • Confy

    Not so. They had sextants and polaris :)

  • http://ajvaalama1952.blogspot.com antti johannes vaalama

    I am sure they are doimg a great success with their theories of the changing magnetic field. I also wonder if they have not made any measusements in the other place or places of our tiny planet earth. I am sure that this kind of phenomena happens also in some other places. What happens in the other planets of our solar system? It could be worth of investigating! What happens in the planet systems of the other stars in cosmos. This phenomena happens surely by the solidifying process of the iron heart of the planet. So, all the planets that have an iron heart must have a magnetic field and at the same time a changing magnetic field. By the way do you have thought if a magnetic field has any influence in gravity? We know that the sun has also a magnetic field. Does this magnetic field change in time periods and what kind of influence this phenomena has for the gravity between earth and sun and between other planets and sun in our solar system? I am a NASA researcher, working for the Sponsored Research Office, SRO at NASA and am a member of Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. I have a new theory for gravity, how it occures in cosmos and how it forms in cosmos! Perhapse I have found the missing gravity particle by my theories and by my mathematics, a particle that Albert Einstein never found!


    Antti Johannes Vaalama
    the city of Heinola, Finland

    email: ajvaalama@gmail.com

  • Georg

    I think a flip or a flop is sensational enough,
    we should save that flip-flop for 1st of april.

  • cgray451

    I suspect Glenn Beck’s racism is somehow to blame.

  • r peck

    If Glen Beck is racist, that means cgray is most certionly retarded…..

  • http://www.dinotheorist.com Duff Smith

    A magnetic pole flip isn’t a big deal? What would it do to our satellites and our power grid? Isn’t it possible that these findings reflect sudden damage to a collapsing magnetic field due to strong solar maximums like the one we will be experiencing in the next few years?

  • Chicken Little

    Oh my God!!! The polarity flips and has many times!!! It’s the end of the, the, the…

  • http://www.info-bee.com Lucky

    This picture looks like a Spider :-)

  • http://www.angelbomb.com Angel Bomb

    Hmmm, what would Sarah Palin say…

  • Sean Marshall

    I imagine that a flip would probably be a huge deal. Causing even what we might consider to be be minor changes in the oceans currents and the weather patterns on paper, could vastly change the world we live in. We always seem to underestimate how big this laboratory is that we live in and how many systems are involved and affected (all of them). If and when it happens I’m sure it’ll be a surprise and a fun ride.

  • Messier Tidy Upper

    So … Shock! Horror!.. That Core movie got it wrong? 😉

    @2. Confy Says:

    Not so. They had sextants and Polaris. :-)

    Well the northern hemisphere one’s have Polaris, those in the southern hemisphere (like me) have to make do with faint little Sigma Octantis – although we can still use the Southern Cross, Canopus, Achernar etc .. as navigational markers. 😉

    PS. Of course this changes over time with precession (the top-like “wobbling” of the Earth’s axial tilt) meaning the “pole stars” in both hemispheres gradually change over tens of thousands of years. Canopus – the second brightest star in the sky – will one day be the south pole star while the north gets to see Vega replace Polaris at some point too.

  • dontbotheryou

    It is very interesting… Rapid polar shift will switch north to south and east to west…. Then, Sun will rise from west and sink in east. Are there any observance in known history of humanity? I only read about end time prophecies of some ancient societies…

  • http://discovermagazine.com Iain

    The flip may not mean much to us but what about the creatures that navigate using the planets magnetic field?

  • katesisco

    well, this idea about a fast flip; Jan 2012 the sun’s northern hemisphere went off all together. About this time the N magnetic pole took a giant step forward. Related?
    I wish somebody would do up magnetism, gravity and electricity. And why is that so hard? Since Maxwell we have got zip. So is Miles Mathis right? He says our system is unbalanced compared to outside our solar system. We have committed some energy conversion that leaves us with more matter than anti matter. Just maybe the problem is our system is a gas powered car and we think it is an electric car?

  • david germain

    Does the media (rock/lava) in which this reversal was measured effect the results. As the rock is undergoing some serious stress at the time, both thermally and mechanically.
    Maybe we don’t know enough about what happens inside lava when it moves and solidifies to really understand the properties shown in these studies.
    for instances can anyone link a study that has looked at lava that we know has had a steady magnetic field applied say in Yellowstone or Hawaii?


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