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Earth Magnetism_WH Campbell

Earth Magnetism_WH Campbell

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Published by: Cristiana Stefan on Jan 04, 2013
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Most of the rocks that we find on the Earth's surface have some iron atoms
among their constituents. Rocks such as magnetite (three atoms of iron joined
to four atoms of oxygen--Fe304) contain so much iron that they are notice-
ably attracted to a magnet placed near their surface. On a microscopic scale,
such iron-rich rock materials show tiny separated magnetic domains in which

Section 2.1 Fields Making a Difference


FIGURE 2.7 I~ The satellite magnetometer is located at the end of a long boom to avoid
the noisy magnetic fields from satellite electrical systems.

all the atoms with magnetic properties are aligned in a single direction. When
most of these domains show a similar directional alignment, the rock is said
to be magnetized (Figure 2.8). If such a magnetized rock is suspended with a
thread near the middle of its long axis, the rock will align itself north-south
as a compass needle does. Scientists studying the structure of magnetic rocks

have been able to create new materials in which the field domain and bound-

ary regions (Figure 2.8) have been modified to maximize and concentrate the
magnetization. Such materials find use in everything from refrigerator mag-

nets to temporary fasteners to industrial magnets for production-line service
in manufacturing.

For each magnetic material at temperatures above a specific high level
called the Curie Temperature (about 500 to 800 ~ Centigrade or 932 to 1472 ~

Fahrenheit), the microscopic magnetic domains become randomly oriented
due to the heat so that the rock material loses its magnetization. Paleomag-



Chapter 2 Vistas of Lives in the Fields

Before Magnetization

After Magnetization

FIGURE 2.8 I~ Areas enclosed by curved lines indicate the microscopic magnetic
domains in a rock before and after magnetization. Arrows show the dipole field alignment
within the domains.

neticians study the ways that rocks become naturally magnetized and what
such rocks reveal about the paleo years of Earth formation.
Pieces of iron and those rocks that contain a considerable amount of iron
atoms (called ferrous atoms) can be artificially magnetized several ways:

1. By heating them and then letting them cool to below the Curie Temper-
ature in a magnetic field,

2. By placing them adjacent to an extremely strong magnetic field (early
sailing ships always carried a strong loadstone for the occasional re-
magnetization of the ship's compass needle), and

3. By sudden jarring so that the magnetic domains realign with the Earth's
strong local natural field--while holding the long axis of the material
along the direction shown by a compass. Jarring is probably what ac-
cidentally magnetized the iron clock weights of my grandfather clock
(see Section 1.3.2, p. 14). Try magnetizing an iron file by aligning its
long axis with the Earth's main field direction and then sharply hit the
end of the file with a hammer.

Rocks about the Earth are often found to be naturally magnetized. Al-
though geophysicists, who study these rocks, continue to discover new ways
that this remanent (leftover) magnetization occurs in nature, let us pause in
our tour to look at how most natural rock magnetization arises.
Hot lava (magma from deep within the Earth) is at temperatures higher
than the Curie Temperature and therefore composed of many randomly ori-
ented magnetic domains. As this liquid rock material cools into igneous

Section 2.1 Fields Making a Difference


FIGURE 2.9 II~ Remanent magnetism of igneous rock results from the cooling of hot
volcanic lava, which preserves a record of the local main field at the time the magma

(formed-in-heat) rock in the Earth's main field, many of the magnetic domains
align themselves with that local field (Figure 2.9). The rock thus formed is
said to have a remanent magnetism indicative of the Earth's field at the time
of the cooling--which may have been many thousands of years ago. Using
either special radioactive dating techniques or historical information on the
volcanic eruption to identify the age of the cooled magma, the paleomagneti-
cian measures the rock sample to establish the ancient paleofield direction.
Fine rock dust is dissolved in the water of streams and lakes. Such dust
often has the remains of magnetic domains that were jointly oriented in their
earlier rock formation. While moving with the water, the overall alignment
of the many particles is, at first, scrambled by the water currents. The rock
dust eventually settles to the bottom and is gradually compacted to form sand-
stone and mudstone. The particles have time to align their magnetic domains
with the Earth's local magnetic direction of that formation period for the sed-
imentary (formed by settling) rock. Often many layers of these rocks are
subsequently exposed by natural land uplift (Figure 2.10) or road cuts. When


Chapter 2 Vistas of Lives in the Fields

FIGURE 2.10 I~ Iron is responsible for the red color of these spires at Bryce Canyon,
Utah. The pictured formations were deposited in lakes that existed about 70 million years
ago. Sedimentary layers at the base of these formations were created about 150 million
years ago by a shallow sea. Laboratory measurements of magnetic fields from mud-, silt-.
and sandstone rock samples can reveal the direction of the Earth's field that existed at the
time of each layer formation.

the paleomagnetician measures the remanent field of a vertical series of such
rock samples, he or she can determine the Earth's ancient field direction cor-
responding to the time that each sedimentary rock layer was formed. Scien-
tists have also identified metamorphic (form-changed) rocks in which gradual

physical and chemical changes over time have altered their rock structure and

composition along with their remanent magnetization.
Magnetic rock materials also exist in the clay used for bricks and pottery.
At high baking kiln temperatures, the Curie Temperature level of ferrous clay

is exceeded. Upon cooling and hardening, the randomly oriented magnetic
domains in the clay become magnetized along the Earth's local field direction.

Because the bricks are fired horizontally and the molded clay pots are usually
fired in an upright or upside-down position, archaeologic relics can reveal
the geomagnetic main field dip angle (angle of the field from the horizontal

plane) at the time of pot firing (Figure 2.11). Studies of this type are called

Section 2.1 Fields Making a Difference


FIGURE 2.11 I~ A Mayan pot from Mexico in which the local magnetic field was
preserved during the original firing of the clay.

archaeomagnetism because of the importance to those specialists interested
in ancient man-made (archaeological) structures.

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