Magnetosphere Is Collapsing

Could lead to drastic spikes in radiation

Jan 27, 2014
Outside Magazine
magnetosphere collapse

An artist's rendition of the magnetosphere.    Wikimedia Commons

When it comes to matters of planetary well-being, climate change tends to dominate the conversation, but there's an elephant in the room that needs addressing: the magnetosphere. The magnetic field generated by the Earth's molten core that protects us from the hellish power of solar winds is deteriorating.

According to new research, the magnetosphere has deteriorated by some 15 percent over the past 200 years. Further collapse could drastically alter everything from electronics to global communications to animal migration.

"This is serious business," says Richard Holme, professor of earth, ocean, and ecological sciences at Liverpool University. "Imagine for a moment your electrical power supply was knocked out for a few months—very little works without electricity these days."

Scientists also believe that a deteriorating magnetosphere is a sign that Earth's magnetic poles are about to flip. A flip would expose the planet to solar winds, which would destroy our atmosphere faster than any man-made pollutant ever could. Ground-level radiation, along with cancer rates, would also skyrocket.

"Radiation could be three to five times greater than that from the man-made ozone holes," Dr. Colin Forsyth of the Mullard Space Science Laboratory told the Mail Online. "Furthermore, the ozone holes would be larger and longer-lived."

If it's any consolation, space agencies are taking the problem quite seriously. In November, the European Space Agency launched the SWARM mission, dispatching several automated craft on a four-year mission to study the Earth's magnetic fields and gauge the potential threat.

Fingers crossed.

Not Now

Open a World of Adventure

Our Dispatch email delivers the stories you can’t afford to miss.

Thank you!