Adrift in the Magnetic North Pole: What the World Will Look Like after a Polar Reversal

The magnetic north pole is moving away from geography at an increasing rate and at the same time the geomagnetic field is weakening. Now suppose this leads to a polarity reversal, what happens?

Did the hikers, sailors, and pilots themselves embark on a world tour? The question that arises now is that the magnetic north pole is moving towards Siberia at an increasing speed. The Arctic is known to be moving, but it has been very fast in recent decades: since 2000, the speed has increased from 15 to 55 kilometers per year. In 2019, the five-year update of the magnetic field map had to be introduced for one year to avoid shipping and air traffic problems.

Meanwhile, the strength of the geomagnetic field is declining – averaging about 25 percent over the past 500 years. At the end of last year, NASA scientists determined that a major weakness of our magnetic field – the South Atlantic anomaly, which stretches across South America and the South Atlantic – is getting weaker and larger.

How does this continue? Are we on the eve of a reversal of the magnetic polarity, where the magnetic field first weakens and then the north and south poles change their positions? These polar reversals occur once every 200 to 300,000 years, Earth scientists know, and the last time was 780,000 years ago.

Reason sufficient to assess what would happen if we encountered such a polar reversal and the magnetic field was temporarily reduced to a minimum.

Geomagnetic field

About 1,800 miles (1,800 km) beneath our feet, in the core of the Earth, a huge mass of molten iron and nickel rotates around a solid iron ball. This is where the geomagnetic field, which extends tens of thousands of kilometers, is created from the Earth’s surface. The eddies in the mass of molten iron slow the changes in the magnetic field. It is not known exactly how reverse polarity works.

Everyone gets lost

Birds, combat aircraft, scouts, sea turtles … Anyone using a compass (indoor or otherwise) will drift around the Earth. Adjusting the compass a little every day is not a solution. The geomagnetic field will turn into a state of complete chaos, as Earth scientist Liz van Greensfen of Utrecht University predicted: “ During reflection, the field turns into a set of north and south poles randomly spread across the Earth, and each time the compass is pointed in a different direction. .

At first glance, the Earth behaves as if the Earth’s axis is a giant magnetic bar, but behind it lies a complex system full of small-scale variations, says Van Grenzfen. Once the main signal weakens, the local signals become more apparent – just like the evening crawl parade in four days, once it stops, it turns out to be a group of kids drifting in all directions.

Fortunately a lot of our navigation gear doesn’t use the magnetic field but the satellite position as a frame of reference. Although fortunately …

In 2016, Japanese scientists launched a new satellite loaded with expensive equipment to monitor black holes and other galactic phenomena. The satellite withstood for five weeks, spinning madly and splitting into pieces as it passed through the anomalous South Atlantic. Reason: a malfunction in navigation amplified due to a bug in the on-board software. The disturbance was due to the weak magnetic field in the site, which did not provide adequate protection against electromagnetic radiation from space. “This is usually taken into account in the design,” says Earth scientist Lennart de Groot of Utrecht University, “and then satellites that go through this anomaly are reset by default.” If the Earth’s magnetic field weakens due to polarity reversal, the effect is much greater, and they will be damaged Satellites or even fail.

Volkswagen Krant infographic photo

We all get sick (or not)

Earth is bombarded from space by electromagnetically charged particles. The magnetic field is the shield that prevents us from these particles. What if this is weakened? Do we all get sick with radiation, or should we wear spacesuits? De Groot says “no.” Anyone who is afraid of this should stop using their cell phone immediately. This exposes you to a similar dose.

However, there is another problem: particles – through a chain reaction of chemical transformations – eat the ozone layer. When it gets thinner, the UV rays from the sun can reach us more easily. It is harmful and increases the risk of developing cancer. We see this in Australia, where the ozone layer is thinner than anywhere else.

In 2010, two French researchers suggested in the journal Quadrant Science Reviews This is even as a possible reason for the extinction of Neanderthals. They disappeared about 42,000 years ago – precisely during the period when the magnetic north pole was briefly gone on vacation to the southern side of the globe. During this event (known as the Laschamps flight), the magnetic field was temporarily weakened until at most 6 percent was left.

The climate is about to change (but nobody knows how yet)

An unambiguous clothing advice cannot be given for the period of polarity inversion. “It’s getting warmer in some places, and colder in others,” says Ingrid Knossen, an earth scientist and space weather expert on the Antarctic Aerial Survey and Space Weather Team.

Changes in the Earth’s magnetic field cause electrical currents in the upper regions of the ionosphere, a layer of the atmosphere with a high concentration of charged particles hundreds of kilometers above the Earth’s surface. “This results in temperature fluctuations, which change the wind patterns, which in turn affects how the heat below is distributed to different regions,” says Knossen. It has crafted the effect, but the doubts are high, she says. “So, exactly how hot or cold it will be and where the impacts on Earth will be greatest, can’t really be said yet.”

There was an international team of scientists in the scientific journal Science newly Less problem with it. They modeled the effect of the Laschamps flight on the climate at that time, concluding that the temperature in North America and in Europe and Australia had decreased, and in one attempt he linked this to the extinction of giant animals in Australia (such as marsupials) the lion and the giant two-meter-high kangaroo and Neanderthals in Europe .

“Very explicitly, with unrealistic model assumptions,” Knossen says, the experts responded in unison with the modeling – but the logic behind it is indeed correct. The Science-The authors assumed that the ozone layer became thinner and thus retained less heat. This affected the air currents on Earth. “Other studies also show that changes in the ozone layer lead to changes in circulation, with local temperature fluctuations of a degree or two as a result,” says Knossen.

And extinctions themselves? Isn’t it very surprising that it is a coincidence that the extinction of the Australian giants, the disappearance of Neanderthals and a voyage from the Arctic occurred simultaneously? De Groot doesn’t think so. If you look at the relationship between known extinction waves and magnetic polarity reversals, you will see that they rarely coincide. It would only be really cool if it never was.

Power supplies are in danger

In 1859 the telegraph connection between Europe and America failed due to a short circuit. In 1989, six million people in Canada were without electricity for nine hours because the power grid was down due to a short circuit. The cause in both cases was a solar storm – a bubble from the solar plasma carrying a high concentration of charged particles as well as a magnetic field. This affects the geomagnetic field and can cause inductive currents.

It provides insight into what would happen if the geomagnetic field weakened during polarity reversal, says Van Grinsven. “Then the weaker solar wind will also cause these types of problems – and you can save yourself in the event of such a severe storm.”

De Groot: “Anything on Earth that can conduct electricity will actually do it – whether it’s electrical wires, railroads, or gas pipelines.” So watch out: explosion risk!

… or are you still sleeping peacefully?

Have you panicked yet? Not necessary, says de Groot: “The Arctic movement could just be the start of a new polar reversal as a reversal that ends tomorrow.” The latter is considered to be more likely. “Because the absolute strength of the magnetic field is still much higher than the average for millions of years past and does not even come close to the value of the reflection.”

An email to geophysicist Brian Meyer of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), where they closely monitor the magnetic poles, is reassuring, too. He replied: “In the past year, the speed of the Arctic has decreased slightly again, to 41 kilometers per year.”

It will reach the other side so quickly in just under five hundred years, but for the same money it will begin to decline in a few months.

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