Scientists have allayed the fears of many people throughout the world. They have assured the global population that the planet’s magnetic field won’t undergo any reversals anytime soon.
The earth’s magnetic field has been undergoing a weakening in its intensity in the last few hundred years or so. This has led to the erroneous belief held by many scientists that the polarity will flip.
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However, the magnetic field might just be undergoing a lessening in force instead of totally doing a somersault. Human beings have survived many troughs in the magnetic field intensity in the past.
There are queries as to whether reversals in polarity led to mass extinctions in prehistoric times. However, the immediate danger is not to life and limb but rather regarding something we are familiar with on a one-to-one basis: technology.
Solar wind and cosmic rays are affected by the magnetic field undergoing fluctuation. The weakening fields could lead to more radiation reaching the earth. This in turn could lead to a disturbance of power grids and satellite stations. The field undergoes wobbles that swing it from one extreme to the other.
"The field may be decreasing rapidly, but we're not yet down to the long-term average. In 100 years, the field may even go back the other direction [in intensity]," said Dennis Kent, an expert in paleomagnetism at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and co-author of the study with his former student, Huapel Wang, now a post-doctoral research associate at MIT, and Pierre Rochette of Aix-Marseille Université.
The average intensity of the magnetic field has been lower during the past five million years. In fact, it was 60% of the intensity we find today. The obvious questions that are being asked have to do with the reversal of the polar magnetic fields.
The magnetic field is twice the level at the poles than at the equator. The analysis of the data is carried out in such a manner that it provides different results. It all depends on the heuristics used and the lenses through which you view the information. The magnetic poles have experienced reversals many times over the past 100 million years.
The most recent reversal was around 780,000 years ago. Even 41,000 years ago a brief reversal of sorts took place, or so the scientists believe. The 10% decline in intensity over the past 200 years may be a worrying figure but in fact such a reversal will not occur in the blink of an eye. And it is all still speculation since the reversal might not come about at all.
The unpredictability of the whole thing is such that no one could say for sure whether such a reversal would actually take place or not. Geologists are still gathering the data. Let’s see how the future turns out to be.
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The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.