Image: The magnetosphere
At 06.37 GMT on April 23 2016 the magnetic shield surrounding the earth suffered a complete collapse. The collapse came without warning and restored itself at 08.39, two hours and two minutes later.
The magnetosphere protects the earth from solar winds and radiation, but for those two hours and two minutes we were bombarded with excess radiation from the sun.
NASA confirmed the event which would have interrupted whale navigation, bird flight and increased radiation levels on the daylight side of the planet…and then retracted the confirmation and said that there was a ‘glitch’ in there systems that made it look like our shield collapsed but in reality it didn’t.
Space weather analyst Leila Mays said:
“The erroneous results were caused by a glitch in our system that allowed the model to ingest bad real-time solar wind data.There is a gap in simulation output for a couple hours after this because the simulation crashed (due to the bad input data).”
Before the ‘collapse’
So did it collapse or didn’t it? I doubt we will ever know for sure but according to many scientists it’s only a matter of time before it happens, and for much longer than two hours and two minutes.
Research has shown that the field that surrounds and protects earth has reduced in strength by 10% since Carl Gauss first measured it in 1845.
“This is serious business,” says Richard Holme, professor of earth, ocean, and ecological sciences at Liverpool University. “Imagine for a moment your electrical power supply was knocked out for a few months—very little works without electricity these days.” (source)
If the decline continues, eventually the shield will collapse altogether at which point the field reverses itself, a so called pole shift, a flip in the fields. Compasses would point due south instead of due north.
“There are small fluctuations, which lead to nothing, and large ones, which we know from the geologic record are associated with reversals,” said Peter Olson, a geophysicist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. (source)
When volcanoes erupt the molten lava hardens and lodged within the rock is a magnetic imprint that shows the polarity it was aligned with at the time of the eruption.
Using these rocks it’s possible for scientists to say with certainty that the magnetic field ‘flips’ on average, about once every 200,000 years. The time between reversals varies though and the last reversal was about 780,000 years ago.
Scientists are quick to point out that there is no evidence of massive volcanic eruptions and magnitude 10+ earthquakes. The ground does not move physically, the magnetic field is the only thing that changes. There is no geological evidence pointing at terrestrial land shifts.
The danger of magnetic reversals is that as the field declines more harmful radiation reaches the surface of the planet. Eventually the last bits of the field collapses and the poles are reversed. The ‘new’ field is generated from the motion iron core of the earth, builds in strength over time, so we may be without full protection for some time…it’s impossible to tell how long. As the field builds we may have no magnetic poles for a while, and as the reversal is not synchronised we may even have two not the poles for a while, or two south poles…there’s no way of telling.
During this time of silent upheaval the food supply will be affected, pollinators will not be able to navigate successfully back to their hives. Butterflies, birds and other animals that instinctively migrate in a given direction will go the wrong way which will affect the food chain of animals around the globe, and ultimately will affect the human food chain. Anything that uses a compass will be useless, air and sea travel will be hit hard until all systems have been recalibrated and the demise of these modes of transport will halt food deliveries from far-flung nations. We will eat what we can produce locally…providing the increased intensity of the sun doesn’t frazzle the young plants before they reach maturity.
The global economy will slow and eventually die as companies that rely on exporting their manufactured goods can no longer trade. Those countries who rely on imports will have supply problems and major shortages of many items will occur.
Increased solar storm effects, such as solar winds that we were previously protected from will have major effects on communications and most likely electricity grids will experience increasing outages as the field declines. Conductive wiring will allow surges to spread far and wide resulting in transformer loss and long term grid down situations.
Increased radiation at the surface will see a huge increase in skin cancer and cataracts as we are exposed to the harsh rays we were previously protected from.
So, glitch or not we may never know, but magnetic pole reversal is real, it’s written in the rocks, there is a geological record of past events. As we see on a regular basis mother nature is a law unto herself and there is nothing we can do to stop what will inevitably happen one day.