Scientist say Earth's magnetic field is moving at alarming rate

RUSTON, La. (KNOE) - Scientists say the Earth's magnetic poles are moving at an alarming rate. According to the latest report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration along with the British Geological Survey, the Earth's magnetic north pole has shifted northward, toward Siberia.

Dr. Lee Sawyer, a physics professor at Louisiana Tech, says the magnetic field is caused by molten iron, deep inside the Earth’s outer core, which creates a protected ring around Earth. “If we didn’t have the magnetic field, we’d probably look a lot like Mars,” he said.

The magnetic field, however, is changing right now, according to Sawyer. He says it’s typical for it to move slightly every now and then but as of lately it’s been moving much quicker.

"Over the last 20-30 years it's really been heading in a steady northwest direction and it seems to be speeding up."

This increase in acceleration is likely caused by molten iron deep inside the Earth’s outer core.

"The wandering of the magnetic pole is probably due to differences in rotational rates between the crust and that molten outer core of iron and so they're spinning in different fashions." He says this could be a signal of a future magnetic pole switch. "Over long periods of Earth’s history the magnetic field has flipped, it's changed directions, it's flipped directions. It happens once every 200-300 thousand years. The last one occurred about a million years ago. We’re kind of due."

Scientists say they’re not quite sure what would happen if the magnetic poles switch direction, and there’s no evidence that suggests it would have an impact on human life.

"We've tried to see if the time of these big changes correspond to big extinction events like when the dinosaurs disappeared but they don't seem to."

It may appear we have nothing to worry about in the immediate future, but Sawyer says we could see some minor impacts.

"It would have an effect on compasses, magnetic compasses. It might affect birds and other species that use Earth’s magnetic field to migrate."