February 22, 2011

When north turns to south

SCIENTISTS ARE BEGINNING TO WORRY that the Earth is about to reverse its magnetic field. I learned this remarkable fact from a news item published last week in the Falkland Islands.

Those islands are the nearest civilized neighbors to South Georgia Island, deep down in the South Atlantic, where a magnetic observatory is being established to find out when the North Pole is suddenly going to become the South Pole.

According to the British Geological Survey, a world-renowned geoscience center, “The Earth’s magnetic field has had many highs, lows, and reversals in its past. The last reversal was around 800,000 years ago. So the Earth is known to be able to re-generate its field and has done so during human pre-history.”

South Georgia sits within a weak spot in the Earth's magnetic field known as the “South Atlantic Anomaly” (SAA). In this area, radiation from space penetrates deeper into the atmosphere.

“The SAA is growing and spreading westwards from South Africa as the Earth’s internal magnetic field rapidly weakens in this region. Scientist believe this may be evidence of a coming reversal in the direction of the Earth’s internal magnetic field,” says the report.

Well, I knew that scientists had examined ancient rocks whose construction revealed that the magnetic field was once reversed, but I never realized it had happened several times, and I never thought it would occur again in my lifetime. Can you imagine what’s going to happen?

All our maps, charts, and atlases will have to be redrawn with a new north at the top, a north that we call the south at the moment. Geographic globes will have to be remade upside down. You can throw away your GPS and compasses because the sun will rise in the west and set in the east. The blue bits on bar magnets will have to be painted over with red, and vice versa.

Antarctica and the penguins will be at the North Pole and all the polar bears will have to move to the South Pole. The South Pacific will swop names with the North Atlantic. The Northwest Passage will become the Southeast Passage and the trade winds will blow northwest and southwest.

South Carolina and North Dakota will have to change to North Carolina and South Dakota. Google Earth will have to turn upside down and have all its lettering changed. And lord knows what-all else.

Gawd, what a mess. I can’t believe those secretive scientists are springing this on us at the last moment. I’m having a hard enough time coping with the concept of global warming. The idea of turning the whole world on its magnetic head is overwhelming. I think I need to lie down for a while. Either that or drink a beer. I think I’ll try the beer first.

Today’s Thought
The more science learns what life is, the more reluctant scientists are to define it.
Leila M. Coyne, San Jose State University

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #163
How far does your VHF radio reach? Well, the transmission is line-of-sight, so it depends on the height of the transmitting and receiving antennas. The maximum range between boats is about 25 miles. The range between a boat and a high land station can be up to 50 miles. A high-flying aircraft might be contacted at 300 miles. This all presupposes mast-top antennas and 25-watt transmission power. For weaker hand-held to hand-held VHF radios operated from the cockpit, the average range is about three miles.

An Italian immigrant was having trouble with English irregular verbs.
“I can’ta weara my wool skirt any more,” she said. “I have send it to the cleaners and they shrinked ... shrank ... shrunk ... Oh!” she broke off in desperation. “I putted on weight.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


Ben said...

Hi John,

Does that mean us from down under get a chance to go be down over for a while?

Having sailed to the south magnetic pole it does strike me how fast it's moved.100 years ago you could sledge to it, now its well clear of the pack ice in the southern ocean.. but then it seems this is part of a normal cycle (hopefully...) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geomagnetic_reversal

Micky-T said...

Maybe this is why the Mayan calender ends in 2012.

John Vigor said...

Hi Ben,

Well, at least you people Down Under will be Right Side Up at last when the change comes.

Congratulations on your fascinating blog. Anyone contemplating going deep-sea should read it, and thanks for introducing me to Reefurl. Sounds like a very practical, simple system.

(To see Ben's blog, just click on the name Ben in the first comment above.)


John V.