(OPINION) The Earth’s magnetic field plays a big role in protecting people from hazardous radiation and geomagnetic activity that could affect satellite communication and the operation of power grids. And it moves.

Scientists have studied and tracked the motion of the magnetic poles for centuries. The historical movement of these poles indicates a change in the global geometry of the Earth’s magnetic field. It may even indicate the beginning of a field reversal – a “flip” between the north and south magnetic poles.

I’m a physicist who studies the interaction between the planets and space. While the north magnetic pole moving a little bit isn’t a big deal, a reversal could have a big impact on Earth’s climate and our modern technology.


Advertisement


But these reversals don’t happen instantaneously. Instead, they occur over thousands of years. So how are magnetic fields like the one around Earth generated?

Magnetic fields are generated by moving electric charges. A material that enables charges to easily move in it is called a conductor. Metal is one example of a conductor – people use it to transfer electric currents from one place to the other.

The electric current itself is simply negative charges called electrons moving through the metal. This current generates a magnetic field.

Layers of conducting material can be found in the Earth’s liquid iron core. Currents of charges move throughout the core, and the liquid iron is also moving and circulating in the core. These movements generate the magnetic field.