A new report from The Daily Mail claims that the Earth’s magnetic field shows signs of weakening, which could potentially cause the planet’s north and south poles to flip. If this magnetic reversal occurs, the article claims that the world would essentially be sent into spiraling chaos, as power grids and weather patters would be drastically altered and exposure to cosmic radiation at the ground level would increase.
While these descriptions may sound like science fiction lore, a magnetic reversal is a naturally-occurring phenomenon that takes place on Earth every several hundred thousand years. According to NASA, Earth’s last magnetic reversal occurred about 780,000 years ago, and the planet is long overdue for another flip. Scientists have found evidence in fossils that past magnetic reversals have had some mutation effect on living organisms, although the radiation change is not strong enough to result in any form of mass extinction.
How the next magnetic reversal will affect communications technology and other modern advances is impossible to determine, but several scientists in the UK are investigating the matter.
“This is serious business. Imagine for a moment your electrical power supply was knocked out for a few months - very little works without electricity these days,” said Richard Holme, Professor of Earth, Ocean and Ecological Sciences at Liverpool University, after suggesting that a modern magnetic reversal could result in the depletion of the Earth’s man-made power supply.
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Other scientists claim that the magnetic reversal would cause an influx of cosmic radiation, increasing cancer rates and raising the potential for other mutations.
“Radiation could be 3-5 times greater than that from the man-made ozone holes. Furthermore, the ozone holes would be larger and longer-lived,” said UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory’s Dr. Colin Forsyth.
Despite concerns, such a drastic change in the near future is highly unlikely. The Earth’s magnetic field is in a constant change, and slight variations in the field are not indicative of a larger reversal. Due to a relatively limited history of studying the subject and observing the phenomenon, however, scientists are unable to predict when the next magnetic reversal could occur.
“At the moment, we cannot accurately determine whether or not the Earth’s field is about to flip. We have only been recording the Earth’s field for around 170 years; about 1-15 percent of the time a flip is expected to take,” Dr. Forsyth explained.
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Lancaster University scientist Jim Wild maintained that another magnetic reversal could potentially occur, and that humans need to investigate the phenomenon further in order to best prepare themselves for the possible event.
“This isn’t some crazy theory that might happen. There is evidence, but we need to do more science to understand the impact. I’m confident we can come up with a solution,” Wild said.