Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Magnetic Pole Reversal

        I have generally tried to stay away from the magnetic pole reversal issue because I have not researched the matter, and, therefore, it is not easy for me to separate what is possible from the hyperbole. This has also meant that I have also not attempted to downplay any predictions as well. But National Geographic has published an article which is intended to downplay the threat of any dangers from a magnetic pole shift, and which I felt was worth a couple of comments. The article primarily argues that (1) any magnetic pole shift will not occur during our lifetime (so why worry?), and (2) the consequences will be minimal.

        The first issue I had with the article is that the author seems to confuse a magnetic pole shift (the north magnetic pole switching positions with the south magnetic pole) with a geographic pole shift (which would require that the Earth flip over like a spinning top). They are obviously two different concepts.

         Second, as noted, the author argues that there is no indication that a magnetic pole reversal will occur, and that even if there was, it would take a long time (1,000+ years). The Suspicious Observers YouTube channel posted a rebuttal to the National Geographic article, which, among other things, notes that the science is not settled on how long it would take for a magnetic pole reversal. It cites research from Berkeley that concluded that the last magnetic pole reversal--some 780,000 years ago--actually took place within a 100 year period. In addition, the channel's author noted that the Earth's magnetic field has been weakening for the last 150 years--most of it in recent decades--and that the rate at which the poles have been wandering has also accelerated. The obvious implication is that we might already be in the midst of a magnetic pole reversal.

         Third, the National Geographic author downplays the seriousness of a reversal. I don't know about whether it would end civilization as we know it, but the primary danger with a reversal is that for a period of time, perhaps decades, the Earth's magnetic field will be very weak. The consequence is that the Earth, and all life on it, will be exposed to more solar radiation and cosmic rays. Notwithstanding the author's explanation that the Earth's thick atmosphere will protect us, it won't--at least not entirely. The magnetic field is our primary shield against space weather--particularly coronal mass ejections (CMEs) such as the Carrington Event.

        Finally, the National Geographic author downplays the effect on wildlife, suggesting that it will be harmless--a few birds temporarily losing their way, but which will quickly adapt. It will probably be much worse. Almost all migratory birds will be impacted and could end up wildly off course. Some species--those that migrate the furthest--may go extinct. After all, an error that might put a flock of geese a hundred miles off course flying from Canada down to the United States, might put British Swallows, who winter in southern Africa, off course by hundreds or thousands of miles. At least some whales also use biomagnetism to navigate, so it is possible that they might also become confused, resulting in massive beachings.

       In short, the National Geographic article needs to be taken with a grain or two of salt. Perhaps the article is correct that a magnetic pole reversal will not be the end of the world as we know it, but it also won't be a walk through the park.

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