The poles are switching

I’ve got three sciencey-type posts coming this week. Because science is awesome. Today we’re talking about the poles.

Some call it the polar flip. Others call it a geomagnetic reversal. In any event, the north and south poles are in the process of switching magnetic direction. It is not the first time this has happened* (the poles switch every 100,000 to 1 million years), but it is the first time it has happened while humans have had any sort of infrastructure that relies on the earth’s magnetic field.

*The last one, the Brunhes–Matuyama reversal, occurred 780,000 years ago.

I first heard about this story in my high school physics class. My teacher mentioned it offhandedly – please turn to page 78 in your textbook, hey did you guys know that the poles are switching, anyway today we’ll be discussing Newton’s third law of thermodynamics – and, I, uh, couldn’t just let that go. The freakin’ poles are switching, how cool is that?!?

I have tried to follow any developments in the decade or so since.

Well, earlier this month data collected by a European satellite array suggested that the Earth’s magnetic field is shifting and weakening at a greater pace than previously thought. Previously, researchers estimated that the earth’s magnetic field was weakening at 5 percent per century, but the new data reveals that the field is weakening at 5 percent per decade. Which means we’re less than 200 years away from the full flip.

So, what does this mean?

**BEST CASE SCENARIO**

Historically, there is no evidence that magnetic field reversals result in any mass extinctions or radiation damage. The worst that happens is that a compass points south instead of north.

**WORST CASE SCENARIO**

All power grids and communication systems fail. The magnetic fields that protect us from radiation weaken to the point where radiation damage is a serious threat. Navigation systems that rely on the magnetic field are no longer accurate. Compasses are rendered moot. Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria.

Personally, I think this could be a real boon to the magnetic compass industry. Imagine the type of demand they’ll see if all compasses have to be re-calibrated. Gold, Jerry! Gold!

Advertisements

One thought on “The poles are switching

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s