Scientists have made a shocking discovery: the Earth’s magnetic field is weakening.
The magnetic field is vital for life on our planet, as it protects us from cosmic radiation and charged particles emitted by the sun.
A vast region of reduced magnetic intensity has been observed between Africa and South America, called the South Atlantic Anomaly, and has formed a center of minimal intensity in just five years.
Researchers are speculating that the weakening is a sign that Earth is heading for a polar reversal, which is when the north and south poles change places – and the last time this happened was 780,000 years ago.
The anomaly is causing chaos on satellites and other spacecraft flying in the area, as many are experiencing technical malfunctions.
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A vast region of reduced magnetic intensity has been observed between Africa and South America, called the South Atlantic (blue) anomaly, and has formed a center of minimum intensity in just five years
The discovery was made by a team from the European Space Agency (ESA) who extracted data from the agency’s Swarm constellation, which is a group of satellites.
Satellites are specifically designed to identify and measure the different magnetic signals that make up the Earth’s magnetic field, allowing experts to locate weakened areas.
ESA has been studying the magnetic field since late 2013.
The mission includes three identical satellites that provide high-quality field measurements on three different orbital planes.
The weakened field has been on experts’ radar for years – they know it has lost nine percent of its intensity in the past 200 years. However, an even wider area of weakness has recently developed between Africa and South America
Jürgen Matzka, of the German Research Center for Geosciences, said: “The new eastern minimum of the South Atlantic Anomaly has appeared in the last decade and is developing vigorously in recent years.
‘We are very fortunate to have Swarm satellites in orbit to study the development of the Anomaly in the South Atlantic.
“The challenge now is to understand the processes in the heart of Earth that drive these changes.”
The weakened field has been on experts’ radar for years – they know it has lost nine percent of its intensity in the past 200 years.
However, an even wider area of weakness has recently developed between Africa and South America.
After analyzing the data collected by Swarm, the team found that between 1970 and 2020, the strength in this region shrank from around 24,000 nanoteslas to 22,000.
However, what is most disconcerting is that the anomaly has grown and moved westward at a rate of around 12 mph.
In addition, the team found that a minimal intensity center in southwest Africa has formed over the past five years, suggesting that the South Atlantic Anomaly could divide into two separate cells.
The shift doesn’t just happen overnight, but it occurs slowly over a few hundred years.
And when that happens, numerous north and south magnetic poles pop up all over the Earth.
One theory for the weakened field is that Earth could be heading for a polar reversal, which has occurred in the past and that researchers say “we are late”, since it occurs “roughly every 250,000 years”.
The last time the poles reversed was about 780,000 years ago and then the event almost happened 40,000 years ago.
According to the researchers, one of the reasons why scientists don’t know much about the magnetic history of the Earth region of the Anomaly in the southern Atlantic is because they don’t have enough archaeomagnetic data – physical evidence of magnetism in Earth’s past, stored in rocks.
However, the team is saying that the anomaly is not a reason for the alarm to go off, but satellites and spacecraft flying in the weakened area may have technical malfunctions.
Speculation of a polar reversal was recently spotted by researchers from the UK and Denmark.
The team found that the north pole is approaching Siberia at a frenetic pace due to two twisting lobes of magnetic force in the Earth’s core, the research suggested.
From 1999 to 2005, it went from nine miles to 37 miles in a year, suggests the study that was published this month.
The magnetic field is vital for life on our planet, as it protects us from cosmic radiation and charged particles emitted by the sun. The anomaly is causing chaos on satellites and other spacecraft flying through the area, as many are experiencing technical malfunctions
Chief researcher Phil Livermore, associate professor of geophysics at the University of Leeds, said: “We have never seen anything like this before.
“Our predictions are that the pole will continue to move to Siberia, but predicting the future is a challenge and we cannot be sure of it,” he told Live Science.
The authors wrote, “Over the past two decades, the location of the north magnetic pole has largely been determined by two large-scale lobes of negative magnetic flux on the core-mantle boundary under Canada and Siberia.”
“The magnetic North Pole wandered slowly in northern Canada from around 1590 to 1990, then accelerated in the past 20 years from about 10 km (6.2 miles) per year to over 50 km (31 miles) per year “Ciaran Beggan of the British Geological Survey told MailOnline.
“By contrast, the south magnetic pole has barely moved in the past 100 years since the flow of the outer core is much more peaceful.”
WHAT IS THE MAGNETIC FIELD OF THE EARTH AND HOW IT PROTECTS US?
The Earth’s magnetic field is a layer of electric charge that surrounds our planet.
The field protects life on our planet by deflecting the charged particles thrown by the sun known as the “solar wind”.
Without this protective layer, these particles would likely eliminate the ozone layer, our only line of defense against harmful UV radiation.
The Earth’s magnetic field (blue) is a layer of electric charge that surrounds our planet. The field protects life on our planet because it deflects the charged particles launched by the sun (orange) known as the “solar wind” (impression of the artist)
Scientists believe that the core of the Earth is responsible for creating its magnetic field.
As the molten iron in the outer core of the Earth comes out, it creates convection currents.
These currents generate electric currents that create the magnetic field in a natural process known as geodynamo.