Concern has been mounting for almost a decade as scientists hunched over their instruments and double-checked new data concerning the status of the Earth's crucial magnetic field.
The magnetic field protects all life from damaging solar radiation. Exposure to such radiation can cause cancer and mutate DNA. Some researchers believe evolution has been driven in part by epochs marked by a failing or weak magnetic field that allowed the surface of the world to be bathed with intense ultra-violet and other deadly forms of life-changing radiation.
Now new evidence has emerged leading some scientists to believe that the magnetic pole shift—an ongoing phenomenon that has been happening for decades—has reached a tipping point.
According to a report issued by the prestigious British Geological Survey (BGS), evidence suggests the magnetic reversal has begun.
The BGS has taken this position based on careful analysis of a region of the Earth known as the South Atlantic Anomaly (SAA). It's an area where the magnetic field is in a state of flux and has weakened noticeably. The data shows the anomaly is growing rapidly and spreading west from South Africa.
All of this indicates the Earth's liquid core is changing.
"This may be early evidence of a forthcoming reversal in the direction of the Earth’s internal magnetic field," states the article on the BGS website.
The horrible truth
Why scientists and others are not eager to share is the fact that no one alive has a clue what will happen as the magnetic field weakens and shifts and then flips.
There are educated guesses and best guesses. There are extrapolations and assumptions. And there are theories—lot's of them. They range from the shift causing minor inconveniences like recalibrating runways at airports like the facility in Tampa was recently forced to do, to Doomsday scenarios where the entire field disappears exposing all life—including human life—to blistering, deadly radiation and the ghastly mutations that follow.
Some geophysicists believe that the process of magnetic pole shift takes hundreds or thousands of years. Yet others point to an 11,500 year cycle and evidence of a correlation between leaps in evolution (they argue driven by radiation exposure).
Woolly mammoths went extinct when the Gothenburg magnetic reversal occurred some 11,500 years ago.
The Earth collapsed into a catastrophic Ice Age when the Mono Lake magnetic reversal took place 23,000 years ago.
33,500 years ago the Lake Mungo magnetic reversal happened. The Neanderthals disappeared.
A truly frightening event that happened during the Big Lost magnetic reversal of 640,000 BC was the massive eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano. The explosion destroyed more than one-third of the land area of what's now the United States.
Today geophysicists and vulcanologist are growing increasing concerned about Yellowstone. It's showing signs of erupting again. And of course, we have a magnetic reversal taking place.
A complete unknown
What's going to happen? The BGS doesn't know. No one really knows. And there's no way for humans to slow down or stop the process.
"The Earth’s magnetic field, generated deep within the planet, is a shield against particle radiation from space," BGS states. "In the South Atlantic this shield is much weaker than elsewhere across the globe and radiation from space therefore penetrates deeper into the atmosphere…and the radiation in the SAA is a known hazard to satellites, spacecraft and high-altitude aircraft."
Their measurements confirm the area is expanding as the magnetic field begins to significantly fluctuate and falter.
The BGS scientists conclude that "The Earth is known to be able to re-generate its field and has done so during human prehistory. Understanding the development of the SAA may therefore be significant in understanding the reversal process and its impact on life and the natural environment."
It may be more than "significant in understanding" the reversal process. It may be crucial to the long-term survival of the human race.