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Sun's Rays To Roast Earth As Poles Flip

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#1 bobdrake12

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Posted 12 November 2002 - 05:06 AM


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Sun's rays to roast Earth as poles flip

Robin McKie, science editor
Sunday November 10, 2002
The Observer

Earth's magnetic field - the force that protects us from deadly radiation bursts from outer space - is weakening dramatically.

Scientists have discovered that its strength has dropped precipitously over the past two centuries and could disappear over the next 1,000 years.

The effects could be catastrophic. Powerful radiation bursts, which normally never touch the atmosphere, would heat up its upper layers, triggering climatic disruption. Navigation and communication satellites, Earth's eyes and ears, would be destroyed and migrating animals left unable to navigate.

'Earth's magnetic field has disappeared many times before - as a prelude to our magnetic poles flipping over, when north becomes south and vice versa,' said Dr Alan Thomson of the British Geological Survey in Edinburgh.

'Reversals happen every 250,000 years or so, and as there has not been one for almost a million years, we are due one soon.'

For more than 100 years, scientists have noted the strength of Earth's magnetic field has been declining, but have disagreed about interpretations. Some said its drop was a precursor to reversal, others argued it merely indicated some temporary variation in field strength has been occurring.

But now Gauthier Hulot of the Paris Geophysical Institute has discovered Earth's magnetic field seems to be disappearing most alarmingly near the poles, a clear sign that a flip may soon take place.

Using satellite measurements of field variations over the past 20 years, Hulot plotted the currents of molten iron that generate Earth's magnetism deep underground and spotted huge whorls near the poles.

Hulot believes these vortices rotate in a direction that reinforces a reverse magnetic field, and as they grow and proliferate these eddies will weaken the dominant field: the first steps toward a new polarity, he says.

And as Scientific American reports this week, this interpretation has now been backed up by computer simulation studies.

How long a reversal might last is a matter of scientific controversy, however. Records of past events, embedded in iron minerals in ancient lava beds, show some can last for thousands of years - during which time the planet will have been exposed to batterings from solar radiation. On the other hand, other researchers say some flips may have lasted only a few weeks.

Exactly what will happen when Earth's magnetic field disappears prior to its re-emergence in a reversed orientation is also difficult to assess. Compasses would point to the wrong pole - a minor inconvenience. More importantly, low-orbiting satellites would be exposed to electromagnetic batterings, wrecking them.

In addition, many species of migrating animals and birds - from swallows to wildebeests - rely on innate abilities to track Earth's magnetic field. Their fates are impossible to gauge.

As to humans, our greatest risk would come from intense solar radiation bursts. Normally these are contained by the planet's magnetic field in space. However, if it disappears, particle storms will start to batter the atmosphere.

'These solar particles can have profound effects,' said Dr Paul Murdin, of the Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge. 'On Mars, when its magnetic field failed permanently billions of years ago, it led to its atmosphere being boiled off. On Earth, it will heat up the upper atmosphere and send ripples round the world with enormous, unpredictable effects on the climate.'

It is unlikely that humans could do much. Burrowing thousands of miles into solid rock to set things right would stretch the technological prowess of our descendants to bursting point, though such limitations do not worry film scriptwriters. Paramount's latest sci-fi thriller, The Core - directed by Englishman Jon Amiel, and starring Hilary Swank and Aaron Eckhart - depicts a world beset by just such a polar reversal, with radiation sweeping the planet.

The solution, according to the film, to be released next year, involves scientists drilling into Earth's mantle to set off a nuclear blast that will halt the reversal.

Given that temperatures at such depths rival those of the Sun's surface, such a task would seem impossible - except, of course, in Hollywood.


#2 bobdrake12

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Posted 12 November 2002 - 05:40 AM


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Strength equals stability in the core

October 23, 2002

The strength of the Earth's magnetic field is intimately linked to its stability - making a polarity reversal more likely in the near future..

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New work by researchers at the University of Rochester strongly suggests that several of the characteristics of the field that were long thought to operate independently of one another, such as the field's polarity and strength, may be linked. If so, then the strength of the field, which has been waning for several thousand years, may herald a pole reversal-a time where compasses all over the Earth would point south instead of north. The findings were published in 17 October issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

John Tarduno, professor of geophysics University of Rochester, took 14 students on four excursions, the most recent in the summer of 2000, far above the Arctic Circle to pitch tents near 95-million-year-old rocks (Upper/Lower Cretaceous boundary) on the snow-covered Ellesmere and Axel Heiberg Islands.

The rocks, part of the Strand Fiord Formation, were erupted at a time when the Earth's magnetic field was particularly stable. As the volcanoes' lava cooled, tiny mineral crystals lined up with the Earth's magnetic field and frozen inposition as the rock solidified.

Tarduno wanted to find whether the crystals in this region bore evidence of brief fluctuations in the magnetic field. Several more accessible areas of the globe house such crystals, but Tarduno had to go to the edge of the "tangent cylinder". This is a giant, entirely notional cylinder running through through the Earth like a pimento through an olive, from the Earth's solid iron inner core to the north and south poles.

Near the edges of this cylinder, scientists believe the magnetic field should be at its most chaotic, the magnetic lines of force twisted by the maximal turbulence created in the liquid outer core by the Earth’s rotation and the shear effects between the solid inner core and the rest of the solid Earth. Where this cylinder intersects the Earth's crust (high above the Arctic Circle) the remanent magnetic field frozen in these cooled lavas should reveal traces of the twisted magnetic lines of force.

Tarduno also needed to find rocks that were not only in the right place (along the edges of the cylinder) but of the right age - around 95 Ma old. This was a period of unusually high magnetic stability. That stable period - called a superchron - lasted for tens of millions of years - a rarity when magnetic reversals can happen in as little as a few tens of thousands of years.

Tarduno wanted to know how stable or chaotic the magnetic field was during that time along the supposedly turbulent edge of the tangent cylinder. If the field was chaotic during the stable superchron, then there would probably be no correlation between north-south pole reversals and the way molten iron in the core generated that field. On the other hand, if the field near the cylinder's edge was stable throughout the superchron, then it becomes more likely that turbulence in the liquid outer core had something to do with making the Earth's poles reverse. The answer would peel away another layer of mystery about how the Earth generates its magnetic field.

After sample collection, Tarduno used a SQUID magnetometer, a device that can detect extremely minute amounts of magnetism in small samples, to determine the direction and intensity of the magnetic signature sealed in the crystals in the rock. What they found was that there was little deviation in the direction or intensity in the field, even though the molten iron beneath was theoretically very turbulent. This suggests that the fluctuations in the iron of the inner core of the Earth were not contorting the magnetic field but were efficiently creating a stable and intense field.

What Tarduno has shown is that there is indeed a correlation between the stability of the poles and the intensity of the field – in other words, there is probably a single mechanism in the Earth governing the magnetic field. The news comes as a bit of a relief for scientists who would otherwise have to uncover multiple interacting mechanisms to create a working model.

The findings also suggest that humanity is in for a surprise in the not-too-distant future. Since the Earth's magnetic field has been decreasing in intensity for the last several thousand years, and intensity and pole reversals are linked (low intensity = reversals more likely) in as little as a few centuries we may see the Earth's magnetic poles flip.

#3 bobdrake12

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Posted 12 November 2002 - 06:12 AM


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How our world could be turned upside down

(Filed: 17/04/2002)

The north and south poles may be about to swap places, with worrying implications for life. David Derbyshire reports

HOMO ERECTUS, our tool-making ancestor, never got around to inventing the compass. But if she had, she would have noticed something odd happening to the Earth's poles 780,000 years ago.

Slowly but surely, the world was turning on its head. The north magnetic pole, for our tool-making African ancestors, was bang in the middle of Antarctica. A modern compass would have shown the northernmost point of the continent as the Cape of Good Hope while far to the south lay the Mediterranean and Europe.

But over the centuries the poles began to move. A compass needle on the prehistoric Earth would have begun to swing erratically from point to point until, after a few thousand years, it settled on a new direction. The new North Pole was now at the bottom of the ancient world, in the centre of the ice cap we call the Arctic.

The flip-flopping of poles every few hundreds of thousands of years is one of the more mysterious rhythms of the planet. During the changeover, which lasts up to 5,000 years, the magnetic field is weakened, reducing its protection against harmful solar winds.

Since the last great flip in the time of Homo erectus, the poles have been relatively stable. But there are now rumblings that a change could be under way.

Last week, French and Danish scientists announced that they had spotted a peculiar anomaly in the magnetic field whose origins lay in the spiralling columns of liquid metal that flow in the core of the planet. These vortices could be the engines that drive the pole-flipping process.

The origin of the Earth's magnetic field was described by Einstein as one of the three great unsolved puzzles of physics. Lines of magnetic force flow from the South Pole, loop up around the Earth and end up in the North Pole, creating a "dipole field".

At one time it was thought that there was the equivalent of a giant iron bar magnet running through the Earth. However, temperatures at the planet's core are simply too hot for a conventional magnet. And the magnetic field is as old as the most ancient rocks on Earth. Any magnet should have dissipated tens of thousands years after the creation of the Earth.

The solution proposed 50 years ago was the geodynamo. The core of the Earth - a ball of molten iron and nickel with a solid nugget at its centre - is still cooling down from the creation of the Earth. Hot material is spiralling in vortices from the inside of the outer core to its boundary at speeds of about six miles a year, a movement shaped by the Earth's rotation.

The movement of any conductor within a magnet, such as the Earth's magnetic field, generates electricity: it's the principle of a dynamo. But the size of the core means that the currents generated are colossal. These currents have massive magnetic forces that renew and re-energise the pre-existing magnetic field.

The geo-dynamo is a little like the chicken and the egg. You need the magnetic field to create the electrical current but you need the current to re-energise the magnet. Originally, there must have been a seed magnet that started the whole process off, possibly supplied by the Sun.

By studying the magnetic field on the surface, it is possible to see what is happening at the top of the core, roughly 1,800 miles below. Dr Gauthier Hulot of the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris and colleagues at the Danish Space Research Institute in Copenhagen used magnetic field measurements taken by the Danish Oersted satellites and compared them with similar readings made in 1980 by the American Magsat satellite.

The results, published in Nature, confirmed that the Earth's magnetic field is getting weaker. If it continues to weaken at its current rate, the dipole field will have vanished in 2,000 years. But Dr Hulot and his team also found a large area of "reversed magnetic flux" - where the magnetic field runs counter to the rest of the world's field - below South Africa and the Southern Ocean. Normally, lines of field move from the south to the north. But in this "reversed flux" area, the magnetic field lines loop backwards and head south. Under this area, the columns of moving liquid iron in the core may be rotating a little differently than they are in the rest of the core, locally weakening and reversing the magnetic field.

The team also found an area where the field is stronger on the opposite side of the world, under the Pacific. This asymmetry could be part of the chaotic mechanism that periodically reverses the poles.

"This patch of reverse flux under South Africa is growing and the strength of the field over all the world has been decreasing. If this is going to continue, will this lead to a reversal? It is a difficult one to answer," says Dr Hulot.

If the Earth's core were to freeze tomorrow, it would take up to 40,000 years for the magnetic field to ebb away. And yet the reversals take place over just a few thousand years.

"We need an active process for it to happen so quickly and this is an active process that we see now. We suspect that a similar process could lead to a reversal," says Dr Hulot.

The area of reverse flux was predicted in the first successful simulations of the magnetic field, created by Dr Gary Glatzmaier of the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Dr Paul Roberts of UC, Los Angeles, in the mid 1990s.

"These are exciting results," says Dr Glatzmaier. "They show vortices, which have also been seen in some computer simulations of the geo-dynamo. They also see how the reversed magnetic flux patches have been growing and suggest that this could be a precursor for the next magnetic dipole reversal.

"The spontaneous dipole reversals that have been seen in computer simulations of the geo-dynamo have all been unique in terms of where the magnetic instability begins and how long the reversal takes; however, they typically begin as a growth of reversed magnetic flux patches and a decrease in the dipole intensity, not unlike what we are seeing in today's geomagnetic field."

So is this the first sign of a reversal? One argument in favour is that a flip is long overdue. The last took place 780,000 years ago. Over the past few million years they have tended to arrive every 250,000 years on average. But there are longer gaps. Between 118 million and 83 million years ago there were no flips.

The weakening of the magnetic field has also been used as evidence of a coming flip. Dr Hulot is not convinced that the other signs are clear. "Although the strength is decreasing fast, its absolute value is still high by geological standards. It has been quite high in the recent past. Its maximum was about 2,000 years ago. Usually before reversal there is a strong trend where the magnetic field decreases over tens of thousands of years. We have not seen such a decrease in the past 50,000 years."

If a flip is due, should we be worried? The magnetic field protects against charged particles of the solar wind. Once the flip is under way, the overall magnetic field drops to a tenth of its pervious strength, while several poles appear all over the Earth. The field eventually returns to its full strength with the poles reversed.

"To my knowledge," says Dr Hulot, "there has not been any evidence of extinctions of species in past reversals. But the reversing dipole structure would change the interaction of the Earth with the solar wind." One side effect could be an increase in cancers as more charged particles flow to the Earth. "I believe this would influence life significantly for a certain of amount of time and might shorten life span of animals. But it would not kill species," says Dr Hulot.

© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2002.

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#4 Bruce Klein

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Posted 12 November 2002 - 06:19 PM

How long a reversal might last is a matter of scientific controversy, however. Records of past events, embedded in iron minerals in ancient lava beds, show some can last for thousands of years - during which time the planet will have been exposed to batterings from solar radiation. On the other hand, other researchers say some flips may have lasted only a few weeks.

Talk about a lack of information... between thousands of yrs and a few weeks... jeez.

Thanks Bob for the great info.

#5 Sophianic

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Posted 12 November 2002 - 10:47 PM

Earth's magnetic field - the force that protects us from deadly radiation bursts from outer space - is weakening dramatically.

Yet another opportunity for humanity to adapt!

Domed cities, anyone? (that's domed, not doomed!)

Radiation suits, anyone? Functional or fashionable ~ you choose!

#6 Limitless

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Posted 12 November 2002 - 11:08 PM

Very important information, Bob -points taken. Not that we don't have time to ponder, but I do wish people would do a little more thinking in the form of proactive anti-aging ideas, developing significant action plans. I'd like to be around when/if this event occurs. Oh yeah-I'd like to avoid "Domed" cities as long as possible, Sophianic. Of course, the idea will seem less ridiculous every day, and could become necessary, due to some other event (besides magnetic-field shrinkage), or threat from a source that is alien to us. That is all.

#7 bobdrake12

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Posted 13 November 2002 - 03:01 AM

Thanks for the feedback.

I did not know about this potential risk until I pulled up the articles yesterday.

I look upon this threat somewhat like the chances of taking a major hit from an asteroid. Sooner or later it will happen unless appropriate preventive measures are taken.


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#8 Lazarus Long

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Posted 13 November 2002 - 05:10 AM

This is another in a series of issues that we need to be taking steps for that are global in scope in order to address. Local life will be effected in a total environmental sense. I am afraid that the petty squabbling and regional competitions are getting in the way of species survival in more ways then one.

Additionally, I fervently want to thank Bob again on his diligence and great work.

A reversed pole can probably deflect the Sun's Corona as well as the one we have (if its strength in gauss is roughly equivalent), it is the weakening phase and the period when the reversals (like a window being opened and closed) are happening that have lead to periods of greater mutation in the history of life on Earth but none have in fact caused even the level of extinction humans have perpetrated during just the last century. They do however increase cancer rates, shorten life expectancy, increase infant mortality, infertility, cause famines, and rapidly shifting, unstable climates.

I have observed that perhaps they are even related to periods of tectonic activity that are noticeable throughout the Solar System. If this observation can be confirmed through sophisticated statistical analysis then we are experiencing a kind of Gravitational Wave front. Ones that correlates to regions of the Universe through which, our whole solar system passes. There are some geological phenomenon that are related to external as opposed to purely internal stresses. Tides being the classic example and the possibility of Galactic scale tides is logical given the relationship of masses.

Back to Sol's little Sister, our Earth.

The Sea will soak up the RAD's with little impact as it has done many times before. The fossil record is sufficient to support this because the marks are decipherable and the relationship is clear, some species have not only survived, they have thrived due to catastrophic opportunity. Homo Sapiens being one prime example.

This leads to the fact that we need to understand; that we may already have the power and technology to create the magnetosphere for ourselves. What we lack is sufficient perspective and the commensurate will, we are already making the Magnetosphere oscillate to our industrial beat. Our power grid exists in flux with the Earth's Magnetosphere.

Human Interactivity with relation to global climate and planetary stresses demonstrates the ancillary argument against High Altitude use of EMP (Electro Magnetic Pulse) Nukes that are designed to take out all satellite and terrestrial communications because it is feared by some theorists that these could trigger the reversals. EMP's are like Neutron Bombs and considered field tactical for deployment, not Theater Doomsday Devices. These are obvious example of Human Selection again effecting total environmental ecology.

In fact Neutron Bombs are the veiled threat that Bush is holding over Iraq and Korea's head for deployment. Neutron bombs are also used for EMP tactics but they have developed smaller devices that can jamb an entire regions telecommunications systems for short to sustained periods and do so even through a considerable amount of shielding.

Look up HAARP.

I classify the issue of Pole reversal as a threat to Technocratic Civilization more than a true threat to all life. It is our systems which will feel the brunt of it more than something overtly catastrophic. We are perceiving examples of it right now world wide due to a very strong period Solar Sun Spot Activity that has been having noticeable effect around the world in the form of interference with all manner of communications. Now imagine magnifying this effect a thousand fold. To include interfering with energy production and all manner of computer operations.

Ironically, the Earth's climate may have some protections built in. For example a greenhouse and dust phase response to the pole reversal and then a subsequent period of climactic chaos while many factors reorient like corriollis forces that lead to new totally different models for weather then we are accustomed to and maybe even a new Ice Age. Cloud cover does soak up a lot of radiation in the water molecules and it reflects some as well.

Atmospheric chemistry is under assault for a variety of reasons I am sure you all remember the widening Ozone Holes, these are also huge holes in our radiation shield. There are many levels to this issue.

In fact there are many theorists that argue that the phase of Global Warming we are already in is building the factors that cause the Polar Super Cycle that is a giant Renken Engine sucking practically all available moisture from the atmosphere for years and building the Great Glaciers.

Mind, is the resident weather man, have you ever seen the models for how the Great Glaciers form?

First we had to be warmer (past examples of paleoclimatic data) with a much higher global relative humidity followed by an infusion of a great amount of dust into the atmosphere along with highly unstable waves of temperature and strong cyclonic activity that stabilizes over the poles. A human driven model is the basis of the Nuclear Winter models and is obvious when taking the high quantities of dust that such an event can produce. The Gulf War already demonstrated this possibility. Industry and Human activity already produce a quantity of particulate and chemical deposit into the atmosphere equivalent to a global tectonic event and we are about to add Nature's measure too.

Usually this would appear to be antithetical because the polar cold causes what is almost a permanent high pressure because of air density but a combination of planetary climatological factors combined with an unusually large amount of dust, as could be caused by global firestorms (during super draughts as in '98), volcanic activity, and you guessed it, an impact of an object sufficient to add large quantities of debris into even the upper atmosphere could trigger the cycle of polar glaciation if there is sufficient moisture in the atmosphere. Once it begins it is unclear how it could be stopped and all civilization as we have come to understand it would be disrupted and/or destroyed in a slow freeze drying that could go on and on for centuries to millennium.

I just thought I would add my one and half cents. I have been watching the progress of this concern for two decades but it is one that attracts little attention for mice that can't think on geological time scales. But it is true however that the mice do a good job of surviving however because they are excellent scavengers and nocturnal by nature, spending their days hold up in their burrows.

Be grateful to those little lemurs and rodents, it was their adaptation to this type of natural catastrophe that made humanity's rise to fame possible. They have already survived this kind of even not once, but numerous times and so has our species. The threat is real and not one to be complacent about. It is a valid member of our "Threats to Life" category because of the widespread disruption and destruction that will result.

What may even be more important is to understand that many species and us will survive too. It is to survive or prevent we should be planning not spending up until the moment it starts to be deciding if the threat is real. Reality is a harsh mistress.

These events are perhaps more predictable then most people have been lead to believe but it is also true that the models we use to understand this kind of Cosmic Agrenda are only barely better then the theocratic predictive models we inherited from our ancestors. I am however confident that we can do a better job at accuracy for prediction here is we get past the fighting so why aren't we?

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#9 Lazarus Long

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Posted 13 November 2002 - 07:30 PM

Because I don't like the to leave you with such apocalyptic visions without a ray of hope and a reason to pursue the infinite possibility of options. I will add that this is an example of the kind of test Nature always creates to separate the weaker and stronger species, but beware of the Human version of the paradigms because it has been historically the weaker, not the stronger species that have survived the worst calamities to befall our world, consider it a kind of Natural Paradox. Bottom of the food chain is generally hardier and more resistent ot total annihilation because as species they have better survival and adaptive qualitites, not as individuals.

Here is a site which will bore some and provide a glimpse of what the struggle in fact all about to others. Consider it my dualist nature as expressed in neither duplicity nor duelism.


(you might want to turn down the kitchy muzac) [blush]

Just remember Bob is definitely right about defining this as a problem of WHEN, not IF, these events will occur. HOW they occur is a legitimate study for the present but eventually it is a question of successfully coping and less about theoretical debates.

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