Nature

Published on October 17th, 2012 | by James Ayre

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Ice Age Magnetic Reversal Was Global Event And Linked With Super Volcano Eruption And Rapid Climate Variability, Says New Research

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October 17th, 2012 by

 
Courtesy of ScienceHeathen.

During the last ice age, around 41,000 years ago, there was a very rapid and complete reversal of the Earth’s geomagnetic field, according to new research. There was already localized evidence of polarity reversals during this time, but with the new research, the theory that it was a global event is now strongly supported. And very interestingly, it is one that nearly coincided with the very fast, short-term climate variability of the last ice age and the largest volcanic eruption in the northern hemisphere during the last 100,000 years.

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Magnetic studies using sediment cores taken from the Black Sea, done by the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, have clearly shown that if you had a compass at the Black Sea during that time, it would have pointed towards the south, not the north.


 
But more importantly, new data gathered by the researchers, when it’s combined with additional data from previous studies in the North Atlantic, the South Pacific, and Hawaii, strongly supports the theory that this polarity reversal was truly global.

What’s considered so remarkable about this reversal is the speed that it’s now thought to have occurred: “The field geometry of reversed polarity, with field lines pointing into the opposite direction when compared to today’s configuration, lasted for only about 440 years, and it was associated with a field strength that was only one quarter of today’s field,” explains Norbert Nowaczyk. “The actual polarity changes lasted only 250 years. In terms of geological time scales, that is very fast.”

The magnetic field at the time would have only had about 5% of the strength of the field today. This would have resulted in the Earth almost completely losing its protective shield, allowing hard cosmic rays to hit the surface, and greatly increasing radiation exposure.

“This is documented by peaks of radioactive beryllium (10Be) in ice cores from this time, recovered from the Greenland ice sheet. 10Be as well as radioactive carbon (14C) is caused by the collision of high-energy protons from space with atoms of the atmosphere.”

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The polarity reversal observed in the magnetisation of Black Sea sediments isn’t new knowledge, though — it’s been known of for at least 45 years. First discovered in “the analysis of the magnetisation of several lava flows near the village Laschamp near Clermont-Ferrand in the Massif Central, which differed significantly from today’s direction of the geomagnetic field.” This geomagnetic feature has since then been called the Laschamp event.

That’s limited data though, representing only some specific point readings of the geomagnetic field during that time, so there had been debate about how to interpret it. When combined with all of the new data though, it creates a convincing image of “geomagnetic field variability at a high temporal resolution.”

The cores analyzed also provided insight into “numerous abrupt climate changes during the last ice age” that occurred at the same time — these climate changes had already been observed in ice cores taken from Greenland. “This ultimately allowed a high precision synchronisation of the two data records from the Black Sea and Greenland.”

“The largest volcanic eruption on the Northern hemisphere in the past 100,000 years, namely the eruption of the super volcano 39,400 years ago in the area of today’s Phlegraean Fields near Naples, Italy, is also documented within the studied sediments from the Black Sea.”

This volcanic eruption released about 350 cubic kilometers of ash, rock, and lava over all of the eastern Mediterranean, and parts of Russia and Asia.

All three of these global disasters; a rapid and complete reversal of the Earth’s magnetic field, the drastic short-term climate variability of the last ice age, and one of the largest volcanic eruptions in the last million years; have now been tied together and placed into a precise and connected chronological order.

The new research was just published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

Source: Helmholtz Centre Potsdam – GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences
Image Credits: Dr. habil. Norbert R. Nowaczyk / GFZ

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About the Author

's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.



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