Earth’s Magnetic Subject Is about to Flip

The Earth’s magnetic subject, magnetic poles and geographic poles.
Credit score: Earth’s Magnetic Area picture by way of Shutterstock

An enormous lava lamp contained in the Earth could be flipping the planet’s magnetic subject

When you might journey again in time forty one,000 years to the final ice age, your compass would level south as an alternative of north. That’s as a result of for a interval of some hundred years, the Earth’s magnetic subject was reversed.

Magnetic  reversals have occurred repeatedly over the planet’s historical past, typically lasting lots of of hundreds of years. We all know this from the best way it impacts the alignment of magnetic minerals, that we will now research on the Earth’s floor.

A number of concepts exist to elucidate why magnetic area reversals occur. Considered one of these simply turned extra believable. My colleagues and I found that areas on prime of the Earth’s core might behave like big lava lamps, with blobs of rock periodically rising and falling deep inside our planet. This might have an effect on its magnetic area and trigger it to flip. The best way we made this discovery was by learning alerts from a few of the world’s most damaging earthquakes.


Round three,000km under our ft – 270 occasions additional down than the deepest a part of the ocean – is the beginning of the Earth’s core, a liquid sphere of principally molten iron and nickel. At this boundary between the core and the rocky mantle above, the temperature is nearly four,000℃ levels, just like that on the floor of a star, with a strain greater than 1.3m occasions that on the Earth’s floor.

On the mantle aspect of this boundary, strong rock steadily flows over tens of millions of years, driving the plate tectonics that trigger continents to maneuver and alter form. On the core aspect, fluid, magnetic iron swirls vigorously, creating and sustaining the Earth’s magnetic area that protects the planet from the radiation of area that might in any other case strip away our environment.

As a result of it’s so far underground, the primary approach we will research the core-mantle boundary is by wanting on the seismic alerts generated by earthquakes. Utilizing details about the form and velocity of seismic waves, we will work out what the a part of the planet they’ve travelled by means of to succeed in us is like. After a very giant earthquake, the entire planet vibrates like a ringing bell, and measuring these oscillations somewhere else can inform us how the construction varies inside the planet.

New mannequin Earth? Shutterstock

On this method, we all know there are two giant areas on the prime of the core the place seismic waves journey extra slowly than in surrounding areas. Every area is so giant that it will be one hundred occasions taller than Mount Everest if it have been on the floor of the planet. These areas, termed giant-low-velocity-provinces or extra typically simply “blobs”, have a big influence on the dynamics of the mantle. Additionally they affect how the core cools, which alters the circulate within the outer core.


A number of notably damaging earthquakes over current many years have enabled us to measure a particular type of seismic oscillations that journey alongside the core-mantle boundary, often known as Stoneley modes. Our most up-to-date analysis on these modes exhibits that the 2 blobs on prime of the core have a decrease density in comparison with the encompassing materials. This means that materials is actively rising up in the direction of the floor, in line with different geophysical observations.

New rationalization

These areas could be much less dense just because they’re hotter. However an thrilling various risk is that the chemical composition of those elements of the mantle trigger them to behave just like the blobs in a lava lamp. This may imply they warmth up and periodically rise in the direction of the floor, earlier than cooling and splashing again down on the core.

Such behaviour would change the best way through which warmth is extracted from the core’s floor over tens of millions of years. And this might clarify why the Earth’s magnetic area typically reverses. The truth that the sector has modified so many occasions within the Earth’s historical past means that the interior construction we all know at present may additionally have modified.

We all know the core is roofed with a panorama of mountains and valleys just like the Earth’s floor. Through the use of extra knowledge from Earth oscillations to review this topography, we will produce extra detailed maps of the core that may give us a a lot better understanding of what’s going on deep under our ft.


This text was initially revealed on The Conversation.


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