The Earth’s magnetic field weakens between South America and Africa.
Confused experts say the “strange behavior” is causing problems for satellites and airplanes – and some believe that this could be an early sign that the Earth’s magnetic poles will soon tip over.
The earth’s magnetic field is vital for life on our planet.
It is a constantly changing force that protects us from cosmic rays – and from charged particles of the sun.
The field is mainly created by the ocean from super-hot liquid iron, which forms the outer core of the earth, about 3,000 km under our feet.
It creates electrical currents that create (and change) our electromagnetic field.
However, the field is becoming weaker: In the past 200 years, it has lost around 9% of its strength worldwide.
Now scientists have noticed a certain patch of reduced intensity that has developed between South America and Africa.
It’s called the South Atlantic Anomaly and is constantly changing.
Between 1970 and 2020, the minimum strength dropped from 24,000 nanoteslas to 22,000, as tracked by the European Space Agency.
And the area has grown and moved west at around 20 km a year.
A second center of reduced intensity has also emerged southwest of Africa in the past five years.
This could mean that the South Atlantic anomaly is split in two.
“The new eastern minimum of the South Atlantic anomaly has occurred in the last decade and has developed significantly in recent years,” said Jürgen Matzka from the German Research Center for Geosciences.
“We are very lucky that the swarm satellites are in orbit to study the development of the South Atlantic anomaly.
“The challenge now is to understand the processes in the Earth’s core that drive these changes.”
Some scientists fear that the weakening magnetic field of the earth could mean that the earth is heading for a polarity reversal.
That would mean that the north and south magnetic poles would switch places.
This has happened fairly regularly throughout Earth’s history, approximately every 250,000 years.
We are currently “overdue” because the last flip took place about 780,000 years ago.
There is no evidence that this will happen soon, as fluctuations are common.
However, due to the weaker magnetic field, technical faults occur more frequently in satellites and spacecraft that fly in the region.
This “weakening” is also not the only major change in the earth’s magnetic field.
Recent studies have also shown that the magnetic north pole is changing rapidly.
The north pole never changes geographically – but the magnetic north does.
It is in a tug of war between two magnetic “blobs” deep below the surface of the earth.
One of these “blobs” is located in Canada and the other in Siberia.
It is the latter blob that wins, which is why the magnetic north drifts from the Canadian Arctic to Siberia.
This has been the case since the first measurement in 1831, but its pace has accelerated since the 1990s.
It used to walk at a speed of 0 to 15 km a year, now it moves at a speed of 50 to 60 km a year.
This means that the World Magnetic Model needs to be updated more often.
This is an important navigation system and is even used to control our smartphones.
The way in which these “blobs” move and stretch determines the earth’s magnetic field.
“We can now see that a change in the circulation pattern of the current under Canada has resulted in a magnetic field at the edge of the core expanding deep into the earth,” said Phil Livermore of the University of Leeds.
“This weakened the Canadian patch and caused the pole to shift to Siberia.”
It is currently unclear whether the pole will ever return to Canada.
Currently, the pace is only increasing towards Siberia – but this may not always be the case.
“Models of the magnetic field in the core indicate that the pole will continue to drift to Siberia at least in the next few decades,” said Dr. Livermore.
“Given that the position of the pole is determined by this delicate balance between the Canadian and Siberian regions, only a small adjustment of the field within the core would be required to send the pole back to Canada.”
In other news, NASA has released stunning photos of the Martian surface.
The U.S. military is developing a secret network of spy satellites that will one day cover Earth’s orbit.
And the British took stunning pictures of Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites that flew over Britain in April.
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