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Max Haskins

Professor Malcolm Campbell

UWRT 1104

February 15, 2018

The Earth’s Magnetic field, Will Humanity have to Survive the Flip?

Introduction/Overview

I will be explaining the potential chance that the earth’s magnetic field will reverse within

our, or our children’s lifetime, and the possible effect that the reversal of earth’s magnetic field

could pose to the human species.

While many people do not think about the earth’s magnetic field, it does a whole lot to

protect the human’s species. As humans, we are very fragile to whatever lies beyond our planet,

we have evolved to live here. Earth’s magnetic field is one of the many things about our planet

that the human body has evolved with, it protects humans from cosmic rays and other particles

that come from outside our solar system. The Earth’s magnetic field is generated from the solid

inner and outer cores of the planet. The inner core is majority out of iron and cannot be liquified

due to the extreme pressure it experiences. Though the inner core cannot become a liquid, the

outer core can. In the outer core, since it is a liquid, metals are constantly flowing higher and

lower within the core due to difference in density. This change in density, and the constant flow

of metal from the outer and inner core cause an electric current which then surrounds the earth.

This magnetic field protects the earth from a most of the cosmic radiation that hit the planet on a

daily basis. If the earth did not have its “shield”, no life would be able to evolve including the

human species.
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Sadly, there is a catch 22 to our magnetic field. While it protects the planet from harm, it

needs time to refresh and reshape every so often. During those periods that the field reshapes and

flips its axis’s so that the north pole is the south pole and that the south pole is the north pole, this

is what some people call a flip. While the magnetic field is weak and can no longer protect the

earth from same level of cosmic radiation as it does now. I will be discussing what happens

during those phases when the magnetic field does not protect the earth, and how that period

could potentially affect humans living on earth. In addition, I would like to discuss when

scientists believe the earth’s magnetic field will flip. No one really knows when the flip could

occur, some scientists say the flip is imminent, while others think it’ll be some time.

The reason for the recent concern about the magnetic field, is that based off complex

models we can now recreate the earth’s magnetic field in multiple simulations and observe what

could happen during a reversal, also mentioned as a “flip”. In an article written in 2002 by Sarah

Simpson, a contributor to the “Scientific American” magazine, the article talked about how with

today’s computers, scientists can create accurate simulations of earth’s magnetic field.

Investigators have found evidence that a reversal could be fast approaching. An investigator

named Gauthier Hulot of the Paris Geophysical Institute and his colleagues tracked changes in

the magnetic field’s behavior near the top of the core. Him and his team have found these

magnetic eddies forming at the poles that are in-fact slowing down the spin of the planets core.

Once the core is spinning slow enough the magnetic field will have a chance to flip. While the

article did not give a specific time frame as to when this reversal could occur, the magnetic

eddies that are forming near the poles of the planet are causing the core to slow down due to the

resistance they pose. The slowing of the planets core, could be a contributor to why the magnetic

field is able to flip, since the core can no longer sustain its current shape, it flips to regenerate
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itself and become stronger. Later in the article, it was also stated that “some [simulations] require

only 1,200 years” for the reversal to complete. Now Sarah goes on to say how that is “a wink of

geologic time” but for me, 1,200 years sounds like a long ass time. During this period of 1,200

years the earth would be vulnerable to cosmic radiation and solar flares from our own sun which

could destroy our communication network by “knocking out” the satellites in orbit. Current

society needs those satellites to function. If they are gone, then what will we do?

Other investigators on the matter differ, like Sumner Thomas, a writer for Science News.

He claims that “Earth is not heading towards a doomsdays reversal” and simply that the

“magnetic field is about 10 percent [weaker] today” than in the past. The strength of the

magnetic field has been tracked since the 1800s and has been on a constant decline ever since.

Later in the article, he suggests that the “average strength of the Earth’s magnetic field over the

[last 5 million years] is about 60 percent” of what it is today, suggesting that this decrease of 10

percent is just the magnetic field returning to its normal state. If this is the case, and the field is

just returning to its normal geological average, then humanity should still be safe from having to

deal with a reversal.

Initial Inquiry Question(s)
My one initial inquiry question would be: What is the most accurate time frame that

scientists can predict when the next magnetic field reversal will occur? What happens when the

magnetic field is weak? Will life on earth continue to survive even with cosmic radiation

saturating our landscape? How long will it take for the field to flip? Can we prevent the flip in

any way?

My Interest in this Topic
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I am interested in the reversal of earth’s magnetic field. This cosmic event only happens

once in several hundred thousand years, and if there is a possibility of it happening in my

lifetime, I want to learn about it and how it will affect me. I first heard of this topic as I was

walking into my URWT class one day, I opened an eye-catching article on Snapchat (I knew the

article had the possibility of being false) about the earth’s magnetic field flipping within my life

time. I did not know how accurate it was at first and wanted to find out the truth. Was a reversal

going to happen within my lifetime? What I already knew is that the magnetic field protects earth

and all its inhabitants from any cosmic radiation that could ruin our DNA, and that occasionally

it tends to flip, and that it is generated from the earths molten core turning. What I hope to learn

is why does the flip occur? How long could it take to flip? Does this flip occur often, if so how

often?

Next Steps
To find more research done on my topic, I can very easily go to the UNCC online

databases to look up my information, specifically looking at science journals of astronomy or

about the Earth’s magnetic sphere. I can visit Science News, Science, Proceedings of the

National Academy of Sciences, Journal of Climate, Astronomical Journal. All these journals will

have some, if not all the information I would need on my topic. I have also gone to the library

and checked out two books that I could use as references for my paper. One is titled the “History

of the Earth’s Magnetic Field” and the other is “Basics of the Solar Wind”.