The Earth's Magnetic Field Is Changing As You're Reading This Title

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According to the latest research, our world's magnetic poles are swapping places. In this article shared on theconversation.com, we'll see how often these events occur and the aftermath of these types of incidents. This change might have a bigger impact than you might think.

Source: http://theconversation.com/why-the-earth...

The Earth’s magnetic field surrounds our planet like an invisible force field.

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This field protects life from harmful, solar radiation by deflecting charged particles away. Far from being constant, this field is continuously changing. Indeed, our planet’s history includes at least several hundred global magnetic reversals, where north and south magnetic poles swap places. So when’s the next one going to happen and how will it affect life on Earth?

During a reversal, the magnetic field won’t be zero, but will assume a weaker and more complex form.

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It may fall to 10% of the present-day strength and have magnetic poles at the equator or even the simultaneous existence of multiple “north” and “south” magnetic poles. Geomagnetic reversals occur a few times every million years on average. However, the interval between reversals is very irregular and can range up to tens of millions of years.

There can also be temporary and incomplete reversals.

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When this happens, the magnetic poles move away from the geographic poles – perhaps even crossing the equator – before returning back to their original locations. The last full reversal occurred around 780,000 years ago. A temporary reversal occurred around 41,000 years ago.

The alteration in the magnetic field during a reversal brings a lot of problems as well.

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This will weaken its shielding effect, allowing heightened levels of radiation on and above the Earth’s surface. Were this to happen today, the increase in charged particles reaching the Earth would result in increased risks for satellites, aviation, and ground-based electrical infrastructure. Geomagnetic storms, driven by the interaction of anomalously large eruptions of solar energy with our magnetic field, give us a foretaste of what we can expect with a weakened magnetic shield.

This is the least of what could happen if our magnetic fields change.

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In 2003, the so-called Halloween storm caused local electricity grid blackouts in Sweden, requiring the rerouting of flights to avoid communication blackouts and radiation risk, and disrupted satellites and communication systems.

The impact of a major storm on today’s electronic infrastructure is not fully known.

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In terms of life on Earth and the direct impact of a reversal on our species, we cannot definitively predict what will happen as modern humans did not exist at the time of the last full reversal.

What would happen to animals is one of the questions that science wants to find an answer to.

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We do know that many animal species have some form of magnetoreception that enables them to sense the Earth’s magnetic field. They may use this to assist in long-distance navigation during migration. But it is unclear what impact a reversal might have on such species. What is clear is that early humans did manage to live through the Laschamp event and life itself has survived the hundreds of full reversals evidenced in the geologic record.

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