Could Earth’s magnetic poles be about to flip? Scientists investigate recent ‘weakening’

Rob Waugh
Contributor
Are Earth’s magnetic poles about to flip? Spoiler: probably not (Picture Rex)

It’s a moment which doomsday fans are obsessed with – when Earth’s magnetic field flips from north to south, bringing chaos to our wired world.

Earlier this year, a book suggested there are signs that Earth’s magnetic poles could be about to flip for the first time in 786,000 years – and some believe the ‘switch’ could have drastic effects on our electronic world.

But we’re simply misreading the signs, according to a new analysis by experts at the University of Liverpool.

Professor Richard Holme of the University of Liverpool said, ‘There has been speculation that we are about to experience a magnetic polar reversal or excursion.

‘However, by studying the two most recent excursion events, we show that neither bear resemblance to current changes in the geomagnetic field and therefore it is probably unlikely that such an event is about to happen.

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Our planet’s magnetic field has weakened 15% in the past 200 years – which some experts suggested could be an early warning sign.

If the poles flip, compasses will point south – and it could have significant effects on Earth’s power grid (although it’s not likely to happen immediately, despite doomsday-mongers’ obsession with the idea).

Holme says, ‘Our research suggests instead that the current weakened field will recover without such an extreme event, and therefore is unlikely to reverse.’

It could be thousands of years before the magnetic field reverses again, the researchers believe.

NASA has poured cold water on the idea that magnetic field reversals could lead to an apocalypse, saying in 2012 that, ‘The science shows that magnetic pole reversal is – in terms of geologic time scales – a common occurrence that happens gradually over millennia.

‘While the conditions that cause polarity reversals are not entirely predictable – the north pole’s movement could subtly change direction, for instance – there is nothing in the millions of years of geologic record to suggest that any of the doomsday scenarios connected to a pole reversal should be taken seriously.’