Which came first: the chicken or the egg? Even simple questions are hard to answer these days. Here a tougher one, courtesy of the strange year we’re barely halfway through. Did 2020 cause the Earth’s magnetic poles to shift ten times faster than experts were predicting … or is the shifting of the poles causing the problems of 2020? Whichever ever it is, it’s probably not good. Want to go back to the chicken and the egg and try again?
“We have incomplete knowledge of our magnetic field before 400 years ago. Since these rapid changes represent some of the more extreme behavior of the liquid core, they could give important information about the behavior of Earth’s deep interior.”
In a press release from Leeds University, Dr Chris Davies, an Associate Professor from the School of Earth and Environment, and Professor Catherine Constable, from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, in California, explain the technique they used in their new study, published this week in Nature Communications, to both fill in the gaps of the last 400 years and attempt to figure out what’s been going on with the Earth’s magnetic field over the past 100,000 years. Unlike past researchers, they had the benefit of new historical data on time variations in the Earth’s magnetic field and the most sophisticated software ever for modeling the planet’s field generation process.
“Since these rapid changes represent some of the more extreme behavior of the liquid core they could give important information about the behavior of Earth’s deep interior.”
If Sir Ringo Starr were part of this team, at this point he would join in with a chorus of “It Don’t Come Easy.” The direction and movements of the Earth’s magnetic field start in the planet’s liquid core. Just as the liquid core sloshes and swirls, so does the surface magnetic field – with areas moving independently rather than in unison like a hard outer shell. While satellites can show this movement today, historical movements were seen using geological records of actions like lava flows and sedimentary changes. Davies and Constable felt modeling based on time variations would be more accurate. To prove it, they took field shifts shown in the models and tried to match them up to known anomalies.
“The clearest example of this in their study is a sharp change in the geomagnetic field direction of roughly 2.5 degrees per year 39,000 years ago. This shift was associated with a locally weak field strength, in a confined spatial region just off the west coast of Central America, and followed the global Laschamp excursion – a short reversal of the Earth’s magnetic field.”
Armed with correlations like this, they felt confident in their statement that the magnetic field is changing much faster than the accepted one degree per year. In fact, it’s shifting up to 10 times faster. We already know that the magnetic poles are moving, with the magnetic north pole now somewhere in Siberia, while the magnetic south pole is off the coast of Antarctica somewhere outside of the Antarctic Circle. What is the end result of all of this magnetic pole and field shifting at such a fast rate? A common word in the study is “flux.”
“Flux” is also a good word to describe the year 2020. Are these fluxes related? As expected, the model doesn’t look at this. Should it? Would it make any difference if we knew the answer?
One thing we can agree on … 2020 has been one fluxed up year.