NASA has confirmed fears that recent weakening of the Earth's magnetic field indicates that we are soon going to see a reversal of Earth's magnetic poles that would cause compasses to point to the south instead of the north.
There are growing fears that weakening of the Earth's magnetic field and reversal of magnetic poles could have catastrophic consequences for humanity. Some experts believe that magnetic poles shifts in the past triggered mass extinctions, including extinction of Neanderthals.
NASA's MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) principal investigator Bruce Jakosky, with University of Colorado, Boulder, warned recently that there is evidence the Earth's magnetic field is weakening and that we would soon see a complete reversal of magnetic poles.
Scientific researchers say there is evidence that the Earth's magnetic field has weakened significantly in the past 160 years and that neutralization of the magnetic field and flipping of magnetic poles could occur in less than 1,000 years – or as early as the next 100 years.
Weakening of the Earth's magnetic field, caused by gradual reverse re-alignment of iron atoms in the Earth's liquid outer core, will lead to a reversal or flipping of Earth's magnetic poles so that compasses point to the south instead of the north.
According to Monika Korte with the Niemegk Geomagnetic Observatory at GFZ Potsdam, Germany, "It's not a sudden flip, but a slow process, during which the field strength becomes weak, very probably the field becomes more complex and might show more than two poles for a while, and then builds up in strength and [aligns] in the opposite direction."
"When the polar shift happens, the Earth will have no magnetic field for about 200 years," Jakosky said.
Weakening of the Earth's magnetic field could have serious consequences for life on Earth because the magnetic field acts as a shield that prevents dangerous solar radiation from passing into the atmosphere.
When its magnetic field is neutralized, the Earth will lose its ability to shield its atmosphere from direct exposure to dangerous solar radiation for up to 200 years, leaving humanity and life on Earth exposed to harmful radiation from the sun, including solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs).
This would lead to a surge in the incidence of skin cancers, and disruption of power and communication, according to scientists.
Scientists believe that a shift in magnetic poles occurred 780,000 years ago. Some scientists say that another shift that occurred about 41,000 years ago, during the Ice Age, could have caused the extinction of the Neanderthals. Consequently, a shift in magnetic poles could threaten survival of humanity.
However, other experts dispute the alleged link between magnetic poles shifts and species extinction.
"Even if the field becomes very weak, at the Earth's surface we are shielded from radiation by the atmosphere," According to Korte. "Similarly as we cannot see or feel the presence of the geomagnetic field now, we most likely would not notice any significant change from a reversal."
Jakosky delivered the warning that we could soon see a flip of magnetic poles while announcing results of MAVEN measurements which show that Mars once had a thick atmosphere but that 99 percent of the atmosphere that could have supported life was stripped away by solar flares.