Scientists from the University of Colorado in Boulder are sounding the alarm that the Earth’s magnetic poles are showing signs of reversing. Although the pole reversal, in and of itself, isn’t unprecedented, the solar winds that would take out the power grid and make parts of the globe uninhabitable could cause widespread disasters.
The Earth has a fierce molten core that generates a magnetic field capable of defending our planet against devastating solar winds. This magnetic field is vital to life on Earth and has weakened by 15 percent over the last 200 years. This protective field acts as a shield against harmful solar radiation and extends thousands of miles into space and its magnetism affects everything from global communication to power grids.
Historically, Earth’s North and South magnetic poles have flipped every 200,000 or 300,000 years. However, the last flip was about 780,000 years ago, meaning our planet is well overdue. The latest satellite data, from the European Space Agency’s Swarm trio which monitors the Earth’s magnetic field, suggest a pole flip may be imminent. The satellites allow researchers to study changes building at the Earth’s core, where the magnetic field is generated. Their observations suggest molten iron and nickel are draining the energy out of the Earth’s core near where the magnetic field is generated. While scientists aren’t sure why exactly this happens, they describe it as a “restless activity” that suggests the magnetic field is preparing to flip.
The signs of the Earth’s poles reversing are also apparent to Daniel Baker, who says this would devastate the power grid. If a switch happens, we would likely be exposed to solar winds capable of punching holes into the ozone layer. In a new report, Baker, who is the director of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder, claims if this reversal happens, it is likely to render some areas of the planet “uninhabitable” by knocking out power grids.
Baker’s comments were made in an in-depth Undark report written by Alanna Mitchell, who has a new book about the topic titled “The Spinning Magnet: The Electromagnetic Force that Created the Modern World and Could Destroy It.”
“The dangers: devastating streams of particles from the sun, galactic cosmic rays, and enhanced ultraviolet B rays from a radiation-damaged ozone layer, to name just a few of the invisible forces that could harm or kill living creatures,” Michelle writes.
“This is serious business,” Richard Holme, Professor of Earth, Ocean, and Ecological Sciences at Liverpool University told MailOnline. “Imagine for a moment your electrical power supply was knocked out for a few months – very little works without electricity these days.”
Researchers predict that in the event of a flip, every year a hundred thousand people would die from the increased levels of space radiation. Radiation at ground level would increase so much that some estimates suggest overall exposure to cosmic radiation would double causing more deaths from cancer. “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,” said D. Colin Forsyth from the Mullard Space Science Laboratory at UCL.
Preparing yourself for a power grid failure is only part of the preparations needed. Radiation will also cause fatalities, but there are ways to protect yourself.