Sometimes Earth likes to do a little geomagnetic pole play. When it comes to the north and south magnetic poles, it’s usually a dalliance that over the last 20 million years occurs every 200,00-300,000 years on average. As we speak, Earth is currently in the midst of a 780,00-year-long dry spell for the poles flipping, which has set some online groups predicting imminent doom and gloom for all who inhabit our planet right now.
Are these people overreacting? Yes, they are. In their defense and to really simplify things: Earth’s magnetic bladder is currently filled to the point of bursting, and at some point it will have to use the bathroom.
Normally, when the magnetic poles do the ol’ switcheroo it takes thousands of years for the process to be completed. What if we eliminated the slow and steady pace that Earth usually follows and cut to the chase – swapping the poles suddenly to see what happens? Don’t get us wrong – humans are doing the best they can to speed up the switch thanks to climate change shifting the North Pole in an easterly direction, and scientists are predicting we’ll see the flip in the next 1,000 years.
The biggest problem with an overnight pole shift would be the effect on Earth’s magnetic field. This field, which is generated from the Earth’s core, protects everything on the planet from harsh radiation of the galactic and solar variety. The cosmic solar blasts that could rain down on the planet would face minimal resistance as a result, meaning electronic devices (most importantly, your cell phone) and satellites would be rendered useless almost immediately.
What does this mean for basic objects that need the magnetic field, such as a compass, to function properly? It would tell you the North Pole is around Antarctica and the South Pole is on the far edge of Canada.
On the nature side of things, many animals use the magnetic field as a migratory navigation tool. Take away that all-natural GPS system and you’ve got species (butterflies. whales, turtles, hummingbirds, to name a few) getting their wires crossed and losing their ability to get to where they need to be to avoid severe weather changes and find their usual breeding grounds.
Okay – animals will get confused, cell phones will only be good for Tetris and a compass will make your brain melt a little by telling you to go south to get to the Great White North. But what would physically happen to people? If you own a tinfoil suit, put it on.
Cancer rates would jump significantly with a weakened magnetic field around us allowing extra solar radiation through. With a severely compromised planetary immune system in place, people (and animals) are going to be pelted with microscopic cosmic debris, and not the good kind that gives you superpowers.
This magnetic flip-flop won’t be happening anytime soon, so carry on knowing the planet is safe for the time being. But if you find yourself being frozen in the next few years and unfrozen 1000 years from now, you definitely have a reason to be concerned.
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- 2012: Magnetic Pole Reversal Happens All The (Geologic) Time
- The Earth’s Magnetic Poles Are Overdue for a Switch
- No, We’re Not All Doomed by Earth’s Magnetic Field Flip
- Climate Change Is Moving the North Pole
- Why You (Probably) Shouldn’t Worry About Earth’s Magnetic Poles Flipping
- Animal Magnetism: How the Magnetic Field Influences Animal Navigation
- Earth’s Magnetic Shield Provides Vital Protection
- Unravelling Earth’s Magnetic Field