The Earth has a magnetic north pole and a geographic north pole, but the Earth’s magnetic pole is shifting at an accelerated rate over the past few years. New research conducted by the European Space Agency and its three-satellite mission called SWARM, shows that the Earth’s magnetic north pole is moving south towards Siberia. The satellites were launched in November of last year for the purpose of investigating the Earth’s magnetic fields. The fields have been found to act as a shield against space and solar radiation, and also to help moderate the Earth’s climate.
Scientists have also determined with information from the SWARM satellites, that over the past six months, there has been a marked decrease in the power of the Earth’s magnetic field by up to 15 percent. Some of the many risks involved in a weakening of the Earth’s magnetic fields include climate change, increased solar storms which can cause the electrical grid to collapse, temporary ozone holes and possible increased exposure to radiation leading to an increased rate of cancer in humans.
The shift in acceleration of the Earth’s magnetic poles originates from the planet’s core. Large areas of the Western Hemisphere have seen decreased power in the magnetic field while a large area in the southern Indian Ocean has seen an increase in the field’s power. Scientists will be able to continue analyzing data from the SWARM satellites over the next few months to determine if these findings match up with other signal orientations from the rest of the Earth layers such as the ionosphere, mantle, crust, oceans and magnetosphere.
The last magnetic pole reversal for earth occurred 780,000 years ago, but over the course of the last 20 million years the pattern of pole reversals has been at a steady 200,000-300,000 years. Since researchers first located the magnetic pole back in the early Nineteenth Century, it has meandered over 600 miles. Back in the early Twentieth Century the pole was moving at just 10 miles per year, but that rate has accelerated up to around 40 miles per year. This yearly shifting of the pole is believed to be caused by the Earth’s liquid outer core, which is made of metal and flows around the sold metal inner core very slowly, thus shifting the magnetic field.
Usually a magnetic pole reversal takes thousands of years, but there has been some recent evidence that rapid magnetic field reversals occur. Back in the 1960s scientists located partial evidence that an extremely rapid, but short-term pole reversal happened just 41,000 years ago. This research was found in a small village of Laschamp, France where in 2012 scientists revisited the site to find that the reversal lasted only a little over 400 years and the strength of the field was weakened to just 25 percent of what today’s magnetic field strength is currently producing.
Other recent finds include evidence found in Oregon in 1995 and Nevada in 2010, where hardened lava was examined and found to indicate the that the magnetic field had moved 53 degrees in a single year, and in one instance up to six degrees in a single day, which is over 10,000 times faster than usual. Some believe that these movements of the Earth’s magnetic fields from the shifting of the Earth’s mantle could lead to increases in volcanic activity, while others have noted the correlation between the magnetic shift 41,000 years ago and the dying off of the Neanderthals in Europe. If the Earth’s magnetic pole continues to accelerate at a more rapid pace, the results will likely be more dangerous than if they gradually move over the course of thousands of years like many scientists believe is common.
By B. Taylor Rash