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The North and South Magnetic Poles Have Moved 600 Miles in the Last Century and Their Movement Is Accelerating.
If any of this is news to you, here’s the nickel-tour. The Earth is a giant magnet. This is because of the molten core that constitutes the majority of the Earth’s mass. This molten core creates a powerful magnetic field that extends beyond and around the earth called the Magnetosphere.
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- (Graphic credit: NASA)
It acts as a shield against radiation from space and especially the sun.
Meet the Solar Wind
- (Photo credit: NASA)
The sun emits a constant stream of radiation called the solar wind. It bombards us constantly but, because of the magnetosphere, the worst that happens is sunburn and occasionally cancer. Yes, cancer is serious but without the magnetosphere, things would be much worse.
The Mars Story
- (Photo credit: NASA)
At one point in time, Mars had a molten core similar to Earth’s. The result was that Mars also had a magnetosphere. Curiously, Mars eventually lost its molten core. The result was that its magnetosphere was significantly diminished.
What followed was beyond catastrophic. The solar wind stripped away any atmosphere. There was water on Mars. Vast oceans and rivers. The solar wind evaporated the water and swept it into space. The result was the Mars we see today. Barren, freezing, and as far as we know, lifeless.
So How’s Our Molten Core?
Just fine. Just as hot and molten and still sprouting the occasional volcano and driving continental drift. Except something’s happening that’s really started to accelerate in the last 5 years.
The Earth’s magnetic poles have been known to drift in the past by about 5 miles, but the drift has increased close to 40 miles a year. This acceleration began in 2000 and is continuing at a faster pace.
A Bit of History
For the record, the Earth’s magnetic pole is not located at the geographic North Pole, although it’s about to pass at a pretty close distance. It was first discovered in 1831 at a point in far Northern Canada.
Since then, it has drifted hundreds of miles on a meandering path mostly east, passing the geographic North Pole and continuing towards Siberia.
- (Graphic credit: Nature)
As for the south magnetic pole that’s located in the far South Pacific Ocean just off the coast of Antarctica.
- (Graphic Credit: NOAA)
It’s nowhere close to the geographic South Pole and also exhibiting an accelerated drift similar to what’s occurring in the north.
Since the discovery of the magnetic pole locations, they have been monitored and recalibrated every 5 years. At least until 5 years ago. When the movement of the magnetic poles began to accelerate, the Department of Defense, U.S. Armed Services, the merchant marine and other departments and organizations that depended on an accurate understanding of magnetic pole locations shortened the measurement period to once a year.
So Why is This Happening?
After a series of significant studies by national and international organizations, universities and institutions including NASA and the European Space Agency the consensus is clear: they have no idea why. All they have been able to do is report what they have found.
It’s Happened Before
Based on geological surveys of volcanic rock, the Earth shifts its magnetosphere from south to north and north to south every 300,000 years. The last magnetic pole shift occurred 780,000 years ago. It’s fair to say we’re a bit overdue. And that’s what has many scientists paying particular attention to the recent acceleration.
According to Dr. Richard Harrison, head of space physics and chief scientist at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire, UK:
“A major event could occur any time with potentially significant impacts on human infrastructure. As such, there are ongoing efforts to improve the prediction of this so-called space weather. They can short circuit power supplies such as high voltage transformers which provide power to our cities, disrupt communication satellites and therefore will affect, for example, internet, mobile phones and just about anything that uses electricity.”
So, Is This Really Happening?
Based on historical data, the magnetosphere has actually lost 15% of its force in the last 200 years. That falls in the category of “significant” and the implications grow more ominous if the trend continues. According to Dr. Colin Forsyth from the Mullard Space Science Laboratory at UCL:
“Radiation could be 3-5 times greater than that from the man-made ozone holes. Furthermore, the ozone holes would be larger and longer-lived”.
The results would be increased cancer rates, crop failure, and radically changing weather patterns in addition to potential grid-failure. In fact, a recent Danish study concluded that climate change is caused more by weakening magnetosphere than by CO2 emissions, although no further studies have yet corroborated that hypothesis.
Perhaps the most chilling consideration with regards to a magnetic pole shift is its duration. This is not an overnight event. It takes place gradually and continually for decades, and if past geological specimens are correct, it could take up to 300 years for the magnetosphere to conclude its shift cycle and return to optimum strength.
That’s bad news when you consider all of the things that could potentially happen during a shift of the magnetosphere. This isn’t about rebuilding after a hurricane or evacuating to a high-school gymnasium during a wildfire. This is about making some permanent changes that could last a lifetime.
Preparing for a Magnetic Pole Shift
At this point in time, there doesn’t appear to be an immediate threat from a magnetic pole shift, but given the rapid state of change affecting the magnetosphere, there are some steps to consider if the acceleration continues.
- Reduce Exposure to Radiation
If the magnetosphere continues to weaken beyond the 15% we’ve already seen in the last 200 years, there are some common-sense steps to consider in the short-term. This can be as simple as staying indoors, using sunscreen on a regular basis, wearing protective clothing that limits exposure to the sun’s ray, and keeping an eye on any news alerts for solar storms.
Solar storms actually happen with some frequency and if the magnetosphere is gradually becoming compromised it’s a particularly good time to stay inside.
- Make The Basement Your New Home
If the magnetosphere continues to become significantly weakened and the story starts to migrate to the top of the news feed, it’s probably time to consider living and sleeping in the basement.
Mass is what protects us from radiation defined by wood, walls, floors, concrete, anything that creates a physical barrier between you and any form of radiation. The more mass between you and the sun’s radiation, the better the protection.
- Live Underground
A long-term alternative if a magnetic pole shift becomes a reality would involve living underground in either an earthen home or a home built into a mountainside. It’s not time to become cave-dwellers again, but that might not be a bad idea either.
The greatest challenge for a dedicated underground living area is water and food. If you can’t go outside to find water, you either need a source piped into your habitat or an underground spring. The same challenge applies to food. Plants need the sun to grow, but too much radiation from the sun will kill plants as fast as anything else.
- Get Ready for a Long, Long Haul
As we said earlier, a magnetic pole shift does not happen fast, nor does it stop fast. All evidence is that it’s gradual, taking place over years and years up to centuries. That’s really bad news if you think about it. Surviving the radiation from a nuclear blast is a relatively short-term event. Radioactive material has a half-life that causes the radiation to decrease fairly rapidly.
Radiation from the sun isn’t going to end for a few billion years so until a failed magnetosphere returns to full force, our lives and lifestyles may be radically different for quite some time. As a civilization, instead of constructing buildings taller and taller, we’ll be constructing them deeper and deeper.
- Prepare for The End Of The World As We Know It
The worst-case scenario is a collapse of the magnetosphere that’s so significant, the solar wind wipes the atmosphere off the face of the Earth. It’s a repeat of the Mars effect. Eventually, all water will evaporate and be swept into space as well.
In that event, no amount of preparation can help with the exception of extreme preparations developed by governments or groups with enormous resources to create a habitat that could essentially survive in space.
And that’s what life on Earth would amount to without a magnetosphere. Life in a totally self-contained, self-reliant habitat operating on the same principles as a space station in the new outer space called the surface of Earth.
Until the cycle stabilizes and the natural protection of the magnetosphere returns we’ll be lucky if enough of us survive to repopulate the planet. Hopefully, this really is nothing more than an “apocalypse-maybe”.
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