Field Is Shifting
By James Donahue
A recent story in the
New York Times suggests that the Earth’s magnetic poles are in the process of switching and noted that strange weakening
of the planet’s magnetism has been happening.
The story by William
Broad said that the field’s strength has dropped up to 15 percent, with deterioration accelerating in recent years,
leading scientists to think the planet is in the midst of a pole shift.
While no human is alive
who has ever lived through such an event, nor has it ever been witnessed during recorded human history, scientists theorize
that a reversal of magnetic energy is a natural occurrence that continues for thousands of years.
Broad wrote that according
to the theory, “during a reversal the main field weakens, almost vanishes, then reappears with opposite polarity. Afterward,
compass needles that normally point north would point south.”
The writer somewhat casually
adds that “during the thousands of years of transition, much in the heavens and Earth would go askew.”
Broad explains by saying
that the reversal would “knock out power grids, hurt astronauts and satellites, widen atmospheric ozone holes (as if
we ever had one before), send polar auroras flashing to the equator and confuse birds, fish and migratory animals that rely
on the steadiness of the magnetic field as a navigation aid.”
How serious is the problem?
Broad wrote that the
rapid decline in magnetic strength is already damaging satellites. There is so little data known about this event that the
European Space Agency is planning three new satellites, known as Swarm, to monitor the collapsing field and help scientists
determine what is going on.
No one knows why poles
shift within planets and suns, but it seems to be a natural process. Our sun experienced a polar shift in February 2001 which
kicked off a solar maximum, or run of solar storms.
The sun apparently does
a flip-flop like this about every 11 or 12 years, but on Earth things are a lot more stable. The last time this planet experienced
a shift in magnetic poles was about 780,000 years ago, scientists believe.
The belief that the shift
occurs slowly is perhaps only wishful thinking. The reversal may be happening more quickly than expected.
“The fact that
it’s dropping so rapidly gives you pause,” geophysics professor John A. Tarduno told the Times.
So would a rapid pole
shift bring a doomsday scenario to our planet? All we can say about that is early primates, including Homo erectus, a forerunner
of the human race, were here when the last shift happened. Enough of those guys survived whatever happened to keep the evolutionary
Obviously there is not
going to be a sudden flip-flop of the planet, causing the disastrous doomsday scenario painted by some “end-of-the-world”
Our biggest threat now
is ourselves. We have overpopulated, out-resourced and polluted our planet to the point where we are threatened with extinction.
We should be thinking about that instead of losing sleep over the effects of a pole shift.