Part – IX  The Mysterious South Atlantic Anomaly

What could be described as the epicenter of Earth’s weakening magnetic field, is known as the South Atlantic Anomaly (SAA). The region of the SAA is the result of a decaying dipole geomagnetic field which is now so pronounced that it allows the close approach of Earth’s radiation streams known as the Van Allen belt. The magnetic field strength is so weak in this region it is a hazard for airplanes and satellites to fly or orbit near this sector because the high cosmic radiation in this area can destroy electronic and human cells.

Earth’s magnetic field is created by convecting iron in our planet’s liquid inner core. In the SAA zone where Earth’s liquid inner core meets the more viscous outer core, the polarity of the field is opposite to the average global magnetic field. If we were able to use a compass deep under southern Africa, we would see that the magnetic field has already reversed – when facing north our compass would be pointing south.

In archaeo-magnetic studies we find geophysicists have teamed up with archaeologists, to learn about the past magnetic field. Clay used to make pottery contains small amounts of magnetic minerals, such as magnetite. Regarding the Southern Hemisphere, data was collected from ancestral tribes in southern Africa which had lived in huts built of clay. Just as in the case of the firing and cooling of pottery, the clay in these structures recorded Earth’s magnetic field as they cooled.

Over the last decade, researchers have accumulated images from the analyses of earthquakes seismic waves. As seismic shear waves move through the Earth’s layers, the speed with which they travel is an indication of the density of the layer. Now we know that a large area of slow seismic shear waves characterizes the core mantle boundary beneath southern Africa. It is known that regions of reversed flux at the core-mantle boundary have grown over time. New studies suggest the area known as the South Atlantic Anomaly, may be primarily responsible for the decay in the main dipolar field. This reverse patch is also responsible for the minimum in field strength now centered over South America.


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Part-VIII Just Where Are We in this Cycle of Magnetic Reversal?

Here we are now, in Part VIII of this series, and I would think a great question to ask would be “Where in this layered multitude of decadal, centennial, and millennial magnetic reversal cycles are we?” Current studies suggest we are further along the process indicating we could be just several decades, or perhaps a century or two away from a full magnetic reversal. Like all historic magnetic reversals, the process takes a few thousand years to develop. With each passing decade from the previous cycle, the intensity of charged particles increase as the Earth’s magnetic field decreases.

My research suggest the current influx of cosmic rays has increased over the last few decades, with noticeable increase over the last two years. Data from the Swarm satellite have shown the magnetic field is starting to weaken faster than in the past. Previously, researchers estimated the field was weakening about 5 percent per century, but the new data revealed the field is actually weakening at 5 percent per decade, or 10 times faster than thought. As such, rather than the full flip occurring in about 2,000 years, as was predicted, the new data suggest it could happen much sooner.

Historically, during extended solar minimum cycles which could range from 40,000 years to 700,000 years – each being its own cycle within a cycle, could be a contributing factor in historic global extinctions. I would ascertain and with using minimal consideration, you might have surmised a large part of my research is the study of cycles, hence, my company’s title Science Of Cycles.

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An instinctive second and third question you might inquire would be: “What do we look for and what actually happens related to a magnetic shift?” I would suggest that perhaps within the next 20-30 years, there will be people alive today who will witness the process of magnetic north bouncing around the northern hemisphere above 60° latitude and swing between 30° east and 30° west longitudes. Furthermore, there will be some of you who are young enough to witness a more pronounced swing in both latitude and longitude as magnetic north will drop below the equator then bounce back within the next 50-60 years.

For a full polarity reversal to occur, the magnetic field needs to weaken by about 90% to a threshold level. This process can take thousands of years, and during this time, the lack of a protective magnetic shield around our planet allows more cosmic rays – high-energy particles mostly from within our galaxy Milky Way, but also from neighboring galaxies, will be able to penetrate our solar system and Earth. When this happens, these cosmic rays collide with more and more atoms in our atmosphere, such as nitrogen and oxygen. This produces variants of elements called cosmogenic isotopes, such as carbon-14 and beryllium-10, which fall to the surface. This provides a method of tracking reversals of the past, which helps assess future events.

Part – IX  The Mysterious South Atlantic Anomaly

New Findings On Earth’s Magnetic Field

The huge magnetic field which surrounds the Earth, protecting it from radiation and charged particles from space — and which many animals even use for orientation purposes — is changing constantly, which is why geoscientists keep it constantly under surveillance. The old well-known sources of the Earth’s magnetic field are the Earth’s core — down to 6,000 kilometres deep down inside the Earth — and the Earth’s crust: in other words, the ground we stand on. The Earth’s mantle, on the other hand, stretching from 35 to 2,900 kilometres below the Earth’s surface, has so far largely been regarded as “magnetically dead.” An international team of researchers from Germany, France, Denmark and the USA has now demonstrated that a form of iron oxide, hematite, can retain its magnetic properties even deep down in the Earth’s mantle. This occurs in relatively cold tectonic plates, called slabs, which are found especially beneath the western Pacific Ocean.

“This new knowledge about the Earth’s mantle and the strongly magnetic region in the western Pacific could throw new light on any observations of the Earth’s magnetic field,” says mineral physicist and first author Dr. Ilya Kupenko from the University of Münster (Germany). The new findings could, for example, be relevant for any future observations of the magnetic anomalies on the Earth and on other planets such as Mars. This is because Mars has no longer a dynamo and thus no source enabling a strong magnetic field originating from the core to be built up such as that on Earth. It might, therefore, now be worth taking a more detailed look on its mantle. The study has been published in the “Nature” journal.

Background and methods used:

Deep in the metallic core of the Earth, it is liquid iron alloy that triggers electrical flows. In the outermost crust of the Earth, rocks cause magnetic signal. In the deeper regions of the Earth’s interior, however, it was believed that the rocks lose their magnetic properties due to the very high temperatures and pressures.

The researchers now took a closer look at the main potential sources for magnetism in the Earth’s mantle: iron oxides, which have a high critical temperature — i.e. the temperature above which material is no longer magnetic. In the Earth’s mantle, iron oxides occur in slabs that are buried from the Earth’s crust further into the mantle, as a result of tectonic shifts, a process called subduction. They can reach a depth within the Earth’s interior of between 410 and 660 kilometres — the so-called transition zone between the upper and the lower mantle of the Earth. Previously, however, no one had succeeded in measuring the magnetic properties of the iron oxides at the extreme conditions of pressure and temperature found in this region.

Now the scientists combined two methods. Using a so-called diamond anvil cell, they squeezed micrometric-sized samples of iron oxide hematite between two diamonds, and heated them with lasers to reach pressures of up to 90 gigapascal and temperatures of over 1,000 °C (1,300 K). The researchers combined this method with so-called Mössbauer spectroscopy to probe the magnetic state of the samples by means of synchrotron radiation. This part of the study was carried out at the ESRF synchrotron facility in Grenoble, France, and this made it possible to observe the changes of the magnetic order in iron oxide.

The surprising result was that the hematite remained magnetic up to a temperature of around 925 °C (1,200 K) — the temperature prevailing in the subducted slabs beneath the western part of Pacific Ocean at the Earth’s transition zone depth. “As a result, we are able to demonstrate that the Earth’s mantle is not nearly as magnetically ‘dead’ as has so far been assumed,” says Prof. Carmen Sanchez-Valle from the Institute of Mineralogy at Münster University. “These findings might justify other conclusions relating to the Earth’s entire magnetic field,” she adds.

Relevance for investigations of the Earth’s magnetic field and the movement of the poles

By using satellites and studying rocks, researchers observe the Earth’s magnetic field, as well as the local and regional changes in magnetic strength. Background: The geomagnetic poles of the Earth — not to be confused with the geographic poles — are constantly moving. As a result of this movement they have actually changed positions with each other every 200,000 to 300,000 years in the recent history of the Earth. The last poles flip happened 780,000 years ago, and last decades scientists report acceleration in the movement of the Earth magnetic poles. Flip of magnetic poles would have profound effect on modern human civilisation. Factors which control movements and flip of the magnetic poles, as well as directions they follow during overturn are not understood yet.

One of the poles’ routes observed during the flips runs over the western Pacific, corresponding very noticeably to the proposed electromagnetic sources in the Earth’s mantle. The researchers are therefore considering the possibility that the magnetic fields observed in the Pacific with the aid of rock records do not represent the migration route of the poles measured on the Earth’s surface, but originate from the hitherto unknown electromagnetic source of hematite-containing rocks in the Earth’s mantle beneath the West Pacific.

“What we now know — that there are magnetically ordered materials down there in the Earth’s mantle — should be taken into account in any future analysis of the Earth’s magnetic field and of the movement of the poles,” says co-author Prof. Leonid Dubrovinsky at the Bavarian Research Institute of Experimental Geochemistry and Geophysics at Bayreuth University.

Part VII – Coming Back Around to Earth’s Magnetic Reversal

New findings suggest a series of current events are weakening the Earth’s magnetic field. Above the liquid outer core is the mantle – made up of viscous rock composition which can be molded or shaped due to intense heat and high pressure, this is called convection. At the boundary between Earth’s core and mantle there is an intense heat exchange – this is called convection.

What creates Earth’s magnetic field is the process through which a rotating, convecting, and electrically conducting fluid which makes up the geodynamo mechanism. Recent studies indicate a slow flowing solid mantle and its reciprocal connection with a hot fast flowing outer core – is the central focus of Earth’s magnetic field weakening. The outcome of this convection between Earth’s outer core and mantle is the production of mantle plumes and the formation of fluid ‘crystallization’. Mantle plumes are a reaction to the Earth’s dipole magnetic core acting as a thermostat.

As a result of a weakened magnetic field coupled with a deep solar minimum, is allowing an alarming amount of galactic cosmic rays to enter our planets environment. In a paper published in the journal American Geophysical Union (AGU) Space Weather, associate professor Nathan Schwadron of the UNH Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space (EOS) and the department of physics; says that due to this solar cycles vast drop in solar activity, a stream of cosmic ray particles are flooding Earth’s atmosphere – and further driving in and through Earth’s core.

Additionally, a major consequence of a weakened magnetic field, in conjunction with an inundation of space radiation, allows for the redistribution of gas and fluids which could contribute to Earth’s tilt and wobble. It is this action/reaction which could affect the convection process allowing for the north/south magnetic field lines to bounce around northern latitudes. This is known as geomagnetic excursion.

My research suggests radiation produced by GCRs has a significant influence on Earth’s core by increasing temperatures. In viewing Earth as a living entity, a natural reaction to overheating would be to find a way to cool down. And that’s exactly what Earth does. When our planet becomes overheated…it sweats. Yes, just like us humans when we get overheated, we sweat through our pores. When Earth becomes overheated it sweats through its pores called ‘mantle plumes’. Earth, just like humans is always seeking to maintain its ambient temperature.

In relation to this current moderate-term cycle i.e. 20,000-40,000 years – in conjunction with this long-term cycle i.e. 22myr -60myr (million years) my study’s identify a pattern of a weakening magnetic field, and influx of highly charged particles sets up the perfect conditions to produce a magnetic excursion followed by a magnetic reversal.

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Part – VIII How Far Along Are We In This Cycle?


BREAKING NEWS: PART-I Galactic Cosmic Rays Reaching Levels Never Before Seen

Today’s article will come as no surprise to the Science Of Cycles reader. There have been several articles SOC published regarding this issue going back to 2012. One of the highly contested questions regarding the pole shift is…’where’ on the time line of this cycle do we stand. I had addressed this question in previous articles. A significant and conveying influence to the makings of a magnetic pole reversal is the inundation of galactic cosmic rays, often referred to as ‘cosmic rays’.

NASA’s most recent study on galactic cosmic ray levels reaching Earth’s atmosphere are the highest ever reported. It is of no coincidence today’s GCR levels correspond with one of the lowest solar minimums observed. This is compounded by the Earth’s magnetic field weakening at a rate nobody saw coming. Researchers estimated the field was weakening about 5 percent per ‘century’, but new data revealed the field is actually weakening at 5 percent per ‘decade’, or 10 times faster than thought.

These GCRs are made up of high energy electrons, positrons, and other subatomic particles, which originate in sources outside the solar system and distributed throughout our galaxy Milky Way; hence the name ‘galactic cosmic rays’. Although periods of high solar activity such as solar flares, CMEs (coronal mass ejections) and coronal holes (solar winds) play a significant role in space and earth weather (including various natural phenomenon such as earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes and extreme weather) – studies indicate the periods of solar maximum are usually short-lived hovering around the 11 year cycle.

I propose that both solar rays and cosmic rays have an effect on Earth’s atmosphere, mantle, outer and inner core by generating the expansion and contraction of fluids and gas. Additionally, I suggest it is the more powerful highly energetic charged particles racing at nearly the speed of light which has the greater influence to Earth and all living things. It is the radiation from GCRs which can have – a yet to be determined minimal-or-significant measured effect on all forms of life. I would postulate the most sensitive species exposed to increasing radiation would be the most vulnerable – and in fact a significant number has already reached a point of extinction.

Coming Next: Part-II An Understanding of ‘Background’ and ‘Mass’ Extinctions (and why it applies to today’s galactic cosmic rays escalation.)


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3-D Earth In The Making

A thorough understanding of the ‘solid Earth’ system is essential for deciphering the links between processes occurring deep inside Earth and those occurring nearer the surface that lead to seismic activity such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, the rise of mountains and the location of underground natural resources. Thanks to gravity and magnetic data from satellites along with seismology, scientists are on the way to modelling inner Earth in 3-D.

Solid Earth refers to the crust, mantle and core. Because these parts of our world are completely hidden from view, understanding what is going on deep below our feet can only be done by using indirect measurements.

New results, based on a paper published recently in Geophysical Journal International and presented at this week’s Living Planet Symposium, reveal how scientists are using a range of different measurements including satellite data along with seismological models to start producing a global 3-D Earth reference model.

The model will make a step change in being able to analyze Earth’s lithosphere, which is the rigid outer shell, and the underlying mantle to understand the link between Earth’s structure and the dynamic processes within.

Juan Carlos Afonso, from Australia’s Macquarie University and Norway’s Centre for Earth Evolution and Dynamics, said, “We are realising the new global model of Earth’s lithosphere and upper mantle by combining gravity anomalies, geoid height, and gravity gradients complemented with seismic, thermal, and rock information.”

Wolfgang Szwillus from Kiel University, added, “Data from ESA’s GOCE satellite mission served as input for the inversion. It is the first time that gravity gradients have been inverted on a global scale in such an integrated framework.”

While this is just a first step, 3-D Earth offers tantalizing insights into the deep structure of our world. For example, the new models of the thickness of the crust and the lithosphere are important for unexplored continents like Antarctica.

Jörg Ebbing from Kiel University, noted, “This is just a first step so we have more work to do, but we plan to release the 3-D Earth models in 2020.”

The 3-D Earth research, which involves scientists from nine institutes in six European countries, is funded through ESA’s Science for Society programme. ESA’s GOCE gravity mission and Swarm magnetic field mission are key to this research.

New Fallout From ‘The Collision That Changed The World’

When the landmass that is now the Indian subcontinent slammed into Asia about 50 million years ago, the collision changed the configuration of the continents, the landscape, global climate and more. Now a team of Princeton University scientists has identified one more effect: the oxygen in the world’s oceans increased, altering the conditions for life.

“These results are different from anything people have previously seen,” said Emma Kast, a graduate student in geosciences and the lead author on a paper coming out in Science on April 26. “The magnitude of the reconstructed change took us by surprise.”

Kast used microscopic seashells to create a record of ocean nitrogen over a period from 70 million years ago — shortly before the extinction of the dinosaurs — until 30 million years ago. This record is an enormous contribution to the field of global climate studies, said John Higgins, an associate professor of geosciences at Princeton and a co-author on the paper.

“In our field, there are records that you look at as fundamental, that need to be explained by any sort of hypothesis that wants to make biogeochemical connections,” Higgins said. “Those are few and far between, in part because it’s very hard to create records that go far back in time. Fifty-million-year-old rocks don’t willingly give up their secrets. I would certainly consider Emma’s record to be one of those fundamental records. From now on, people who want to engage with how the Earth has changed over the last 70 million years will have to engage with Emma’s data.”

In addition to being the most abundant gas in the atmosphere, nitrogen is key to all life on Earth. “I study nitrogen so that I can study the global environment,” said Daniel Sigman, Princeton’s Dusenbury Professor of Geological and Geophysical Sciences and the senior author on the paper. Sigman initiated this project with Higgins and then-Princeton postdoctoral researcher Daniel Stolper, who is now an assistant professor of Earth and planetary science at the University of California-Berkeley.

Every organism on Earth requires “fixed” nitrogen — sometimes called “biologically available nitrogen.” Nitrogen makes up 78% of our planet’s atmosphere, but few organisms can “fix” it by converting the gas into a biologically useful form. In the oceans, cyanobacteria in surface waters fix nitrogen for all other ocean life. As the cyanobacteria and other creatures die and sink downward, they decompose.

Nitrogen has two stable isotopes, 15N and 14N. In oxygen-poor waters, decomposition uses up “fixed” nitrogen. This occurs with a slight preference for the lighter nitrogen isotope, 14N, so the ocean’s 15N-to-14N ratio reflects its oxygen levels.

That ratio is incorporated into tiny sea creatures called foraminifera during their lives, and then preserved in their shells when they die. By analyzing their fossils — collected by the Ocean Drilling Program from the North Atlantic, North Pacific, and South Atlantic — Kast and her colleagues were able to reconstruct the 15N-to-14N ratio of the ancient ocean, and therefore identify past changes in oxygen levels.

Oxygen controls the distribution of marine organisms, with oxygen-poor waters being bad for most ocean life. Many past climate warming events caused decreases in ocean oxygen that limited the habitats of sea creatures, from microscopic plankton to the fish and whales that feed on them. Scientists trying to predict the impact of current and future global warming have warned that low levels of ocean oxygen could decimate marine ecosystems, including important fish populations.

When the researchers assembled their unprecedented geologic record of ocean nitrogen, they found that in the 10 million years after dinosaurs went extinct, the 15N-to-14N ratio was high, suggesting that ocean oxygen levels were low. They first thought that the warm climate of the time was responsible, as oxygen is less soluble in warmer water. But the timing told another story: the change to higher ocean oxygen occurred around 55 million years ago, during a time of continuously warm climate.

“Contrary to our first expectations, global climate was not the primary cause of this change in ocean oxygen and nitrogen cycling,” Kast said. The more likely culprit? Plate tectonics. The collision of India with Asia — dubbed “the collision that changed the world” by legendary geoscientist Wally Broecker, a founder of modern climate research — closed off an ancient sea called the Tethys, disturbing the continental shelves and their connections with the open ocean.

“Over millions of years, tectonic changes have the potential to have massive effects on ocean circulation,” said Sigman. But that doesn’t mean climate change can be discounted, he added. “On timescales of years to millenia, climate has the upper hand.”