The Earth?s magnetic poles might be starting to flip, according to Gauthier Hulot of the Institute of Earth Sciences in Paris and his colleagues, who have seen strange anomalies in the Earth?s magnetic field.

The magnetic field is created by the flow of molten iron inside the Earth?s core. These circulation patterns are affected by the Earth?s rotation, so the field normally aligns with the Earth?s axis, forming the north and south poles.

But the way minerals are aligned in ancient rock shows that the planet?s magnetic poles occasionally disappear altogether, leaving a much more complicated field with many poles all over the planet. When the poles comes back into force, the north and south poles can swap places. The last reversal happened about 780,000 years ago, over a period of several thousand years. Now think they?ve spotted early signs of another reversal.

The team used data from the ?rsted satellite to study strange variations in the Earth?s magnetic field. In particular, one large patch under South Africa is pointing in the opposite direction from the rest of the Earth?s field and it has been growing for hundreds of years.

These anomalies have already reduced the overall strength of the planet?s magnetic field by about 10 per cent. If they continue to grow at the same rate, the Earth?s poles will disappear within just two thousand years.

?We can?t really tell what will happen,? says Hulot. ?But we speculate that we?re in an unusual situation that might be related to a reversal.?

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