Earth's magnetic field is weakening, and may be getting set to flip--in just a few thousand years north will become south and south will become north, LiveScience reports. But before it can do that, the magnetic field may wander around a bit. Right now, say scientists with the European Space Agency, the Earth's magnetic north pole seems to be wandering over to Siberia.
The strength of the Earth's magnetic field is always changing, with patches of stronger or weaker shielding found across the planet. Right now, the weakest spots hover above the Western Hemisphere, whereas places around the Indian Ocean have been growing stronger. The wobbles in magnetic field strength, says LiveScience, could mean that the planet's magnetic field is entering a period of flux that will last up to a few thousand years and may ultimately end in a flipping of Earth's magnetic poles.
Researchers with the European Space Agency noticed the abnormalities in the Earth's magnetic field strength while analyzing data collected by magnetometers attached to a new three-satellite system called Swarm. Here's LiveScience:
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 sooner.
The data, LiveScience continues, suggest that in the shorter term the magnetic North Pole might eventually relocate closer to Siberia. The magnetic north pole is currently drifting south at around 25 miles per year, says Al Jazeera, "and scientists predict it could travel from its current position in North America to Asia within a few decades."
Researchers aren't sure why things seem to be expedited, although the process--known as a geomagnetic reversal--is a natural one that has occurred many times before. The shift in the magnetic field is caused by the flux of molten metal contained beneath the Earth's surface, LiveScience explains.
Regardless of how fast the flip is happening - or if it's happening at all - humans likely have nothing to fear. No evidence exists that previous changes have resulted in any harm to species or to the planet through increased radiation damage (the magnetic field prevents cosmic radiation from bombarding the Earth).