Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

How often does Earth’s magnetic field reverse?

08.04.2004


Long-debated, a firm answer is now on the horizon



Earth’s magnetic field reverses every few thousand years at low latitudes and every 10,000 years at high latitudes, a geologist funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) has concluded. Brad Clement of Florida International University published his findings in this week’s issue of the journal Nature. The results are a major step forward in scientists’ understanding of how Earth’s magnetic field works.

The magnetic field has exhibited a frequent but dramatic variation at irregular times in the geologic past: it has completely changed direction. A compass needle, if one existed then, would have pointed not to the north geographic pole, but instead to the opposite direction. Such polarity reversals provide important clues to the nature of the processes that generate the magnetic field, said Clement.


Since the time of Albert Einstein, researchers have tried to nail down a firm time-frame during which reversals of Earth’s magnetic field occur. Indeed, Einstein once wrote that one of the most important unsolved problems in physics centered around Earth’s magnetic field. Our planet’s magnetic field varies with time, indicating it is not a static or fixed feature. Instead, some active process works to maintain the field. That process is most likely a kind of dynamic action in which the flowing and convecting liquid iron in Earth’s outer core generates the magnetic field, geologists believe.

Figuring out what happens as the field reverses polarity is difficult because reversals are rapid events, at least on geologic time scales. Finding sediments or lavas that record the field in the act of reversing is a challenge. In the past several years, however, new polarity transition records have been acquired in sediment cores obtained through the international Ocean Drilling Program, funded by NSF. These records make it possible to determine the major features of reversals, Clement said.

"It is generally accepted that during a reversal, the geomagnetic field decreases to about 10 percent of its full polarity value," said Clement. "After the field has weakened, the directions undergo a nearly 180 degree change, and then the field strengthens in the opposite polarity direction. A major uncertainty, however, has remained regarding how long this process takes. Although this is usually the first question people ask about reversals, scientists have been forced to answer with only a vague ’a few thousand years.’"

The reason for this uncertainty? Each published polarity transition reported a slightly different duration, from just under 1,000 years to 28,000 years.

"Now, through the innovative use of deep-ocean sediment cores, Clement has demonstrated that magnetic field reversal events occur within certain time-frames, regardless of the polarity of the reversal," said Carolyn Ruppel, program director in NSF’s division of ocean sciences. "Sediment cores originally drilled to meet disparate scientific objectives have led to a result of global significance, which underscores the value of collecting and maintaining cores and associated data."

Clement examined the database of existing polarity transition records of the past four reversals. The overall average duration, he found, is 7,000 years. But the variation is not random, he said. Instead it alters with latitude. The directional change takes half as long at low attitude sites as it does at mid- to high-latitude sites. "This dependence of duration on site latitude was surprising at first, but it’s exactly as would be predicted in geometric models of reversing fields," Clement said.

Cheryl Dybas | NSF
Further information:
http://www.nsf.gov
http://www.nsf.gov/home/news.html

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Mineral discoveries in the Galapagos Islands pose a puzzle as to their formation and origin
19.10.2018 | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

nachricht Massive organism is crashing on our watch
18.10.2018 | S.J. & Jessie E. Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Goodbye, silicon? On the way to new electronic materials with metal-organic networks

Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) in Mainz (Germany) together with scientists from Dresden, Leipzig, Sofia (Bulgaria) and Madrid (Spain) have now developed and characterized a novel, metal-organic material which displays electrical properties mimicking those of highly crystalline silicon. The material which can easily be fabricated at room temperature could serve as a replacement for expensive conventional inorganic materials used in optoelectronics.

Silicon, a so called semiconductor, is currently widely employed for the development of components such as solar cells, LEDs or computer chips. High purity...

Im Focus: Storage & Transport of highly volatile Gases made safer & cheaper by the use of “Kinetic Trapping"

Augsburg chemists present a new technology for compressing, storing and transporting highly volatile gases in porous frameworks/New prospects for gas-powered vehicles

Storage of highly volatile gases has always been a major technological challenge, not least for use in the automotive sector, for, for example, methane or...

Im Focus: Disrupting crystalline order to restore superfluidity

When we put water in a freezer, water molecules crystallize and form ice. This change from one phase of matter to another is called a phase transition. While this transition, and countless others that occur in nature, typically takes place at the same fixed conditions, such as the freezing point, one can ask how it can be influenced in a controlled way.

We are all familiar with such control of the freezing transition, as it is an essential ingredient in the art of making a sorbet or a slushy. To make a cold...

Im Focus: Micro energy harvesters for the Internet of Things

Fraunhofer IWS Dresden scientists print electronic layers with polymer ink

Thin organic layers provide machines and equipment with new functions. They enable, for example, tiny energy recuperators. In future, these will be installed...

Im Focus: Dynamik einzelner Proteine

Neue Messmethode erlaubt es Forschenden, die Bewegung von Molekülen lange und genau zu verfolgen

Das Zusammenspiel aus Struktur und Dynamik bestimmt die Funktion von Proteinen, den molekularen Werkzeugen der Zelle. Durch Fortschritte in der...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Conference to pave the way for new therapies

17.10.2018 | Event News

Berlin5GWeek: Private industrial networks and temporary 5G connectivity islands

16.10.2018 | Event News

5th International Conference on Cellular Materials (CellMAT), Scientific Programme online

02.10.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Nanocages in the lab and in the computer: how DNA-based dendrimers transport nanoparticles

19.10.2018 | Life Sciences

Thin films from Braunschweig on the way to Mercury

19.10.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

App-App-Hooray! - Innovative Kits for AR Applications

19.10.2018 | Trade Fair News

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>