Planning on going on holiday any time soon? Then you better get booking, sooner rather than later.
Why – because the end of the world as we know it could be on its way pretty soon. Okay, not pretty soon, but in the next few thousand years.
For once, it’s not from anything we’ve done, it’s actually the Earth’s magnetic field, which we can’t control.
The magnetic poles of the Earth are at North and South, but the whole magnetic field is no where near as static or as established as you might at first think – it’s actually a fluid and dynamic field which is at risk of reversing completely.
Magnetic pole reversal is something which has happened more than a handful of times in the Earth’s few billion years on the planet and some scientists argue the consequences have been minimal to non-existant.
Despite this, some theorists have argued the current technological status of our planet means the implications will be wide-ranging and catastrophic.
The last reversal of the magnetic polarities happened about 780,000 years ago, so we’re well overdue a switch from North to South, but the consequences could well be much more than a 180 degree change in our compasses.
What we do know about magnetic changes like these is the magnetic field will greatly reduce before it flips, which means we probably won’t feel it physically – the change isn’t instant anyway – it takes years.
According to John Tarduno, Professor of geophysics at the University of Rochester, the magnetic field is one of the things which protects the Earth from solar radiation.
He told Live Science:
Coronal mass ejections (CMEs) occasionally occur on the Sun and sometimes hurtle directly towards Earth.
Some of the particles associated with CMEs can be blocked by Earth’s magnetic field.
With a weak field, this shielding is less efficient. Ozone holes, like that over Antarctica (which today are due to an entirely different cause related to man), could form as solar particles interact with the atmosphere in a cascade of chemical reactions.
According to Tarduno, this could cause a spike in cancer rates as a result of the increased exposure to the Sun’s waves.
However there’s also a massive risk to electronics for the same reasons, as the solar flares could deal out some serious damage to our electronic infrastructure.
Monika Korte, the scientific director of the Niemegk Geomagnetic Observatory at GFZ Potsdam in Germany, said:
These kinds of negative influences clearly will increase if the magnetic field [decreases] and thus its shielding function became significantly weaker, e.g. during a reversal, and it will be important to find mitigation strategies.
What we also know is there’ll be an immense impact on animals which rely on magnetic fields to navigate. The change would disorient all the species who rely on this to get around, including bees, salmon, whales and pigeons.
Right now, there’s actually no scientific consensus on just how these animals will react to the magnetic change, but we do know it’ll take some time for them to get used to the colossal change.
What we do know is the change is happening and we need to work out just how to mitigate the potentially catastrophic damage.