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What is the evidence for geomagnetic reversal ?

  1. Aug 28, 2011 #1
    Apologies if this has been raised. Could not find what i was looking for.

    We are being given paleomagnetics as part of a basic science degree, and i was having problems getting what the evidence is for geomagnetic reversal. My tutor could not answer this question and tells me to move on to the current assignments. I keep coming back to this. Damn curiosity !

    the idea for the reversal theory is that magnetite aggregations have Subchronozone distributions clearly reversing their domain orientations across the planet within the same time frame.

    However when i dig out papers i only find one section of the Atlantic where this is being explored and some mountain areas where domains went the opposite direction. at the same time we are being told that in these active mountain building areas the rock recycling could flip a crustal section 180 degrees anyway.

    Ok my point is this, i originally thought that the magnetic bands on earth wide sea floor spreading were marked black and white because the magnetite domain ordering had flipped 180 degrees. i.e. north becomes south and vice versa. And that was our earth wide time synchronized evidence. However it seems that the bands are really areas where the magnetic field has become weak or the domains shift by slight degrees not 180 degrees ! Is this correct ? If so this just tells us that there has been earth wide pole wander and not reversal.

    Am i missing the obvious or did i misinterpret what i read ?

    what is the evidence that clearly distinguishes regular earth-wide pole wander from actual regular 180 degree reversal ?
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  3. Aug 28, 2011 #2


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  4. Aug 28, 2011 #3


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    The evidence lies in the Mid Atlantic ridge. The Mid Atlantic Ridge is formed by an up welling of new rock. The magnetic field of the upwelling material is fixed when the molten rock solidifies. Thus as the ridge grows it leaves a time map of the magnetic field. It is in these rocks that they find periodic reversals of the magnetic field.
  5. Aug 28, 2011 #4


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    They find evidence many places.

    Last edited: Aug 28, 2011
  6. Aug 29, 2011 #5
    Much of the sediment cores drilled in the ocean in the Ocean Drilling Program are magnetized very weakly, yet detectable in labs like this.

    Since the magnetic polarization proves to be very consistent in time/depth, it's one of the more popular methods to date the cores back hundreds of million years, using the geomagnetic pole reversals.

    Here is an example of correlating geomagnetic dating of a lot of oceanic sediment cores (fig 4 on page 6):


    Notice the black/white bar above the time scales with the names like Brunhes, Matuyama, jaramillo, Olduvai, etc, those are the geomagnetic "chrons", between geomagnetic pole reversals, which are dated very accurately, over and over again.
  7. Sep 3, 2011 #6
    As folk have pointed out above there is a range of evidence from different sources that support geomagnetic reversals. I think some of your confusion lies in the mechanisms by which rocks can record the geomagnetic field. In particular the confusion between reversals of the geomagnetic field and the phenomenon of self-reversal behaviour, which is seen in some rocks.

    I don’t have time to go into a detailed description right now, but, if your library has it, I would recommend Paleomagnetism: Continents and Oceans (2000) by McElhinny and McFadden (ISBN 0-12-483355-1). Chapter 4 explains the background, self-reversals and the evidence supporting geomagnetic field reversals.

    And by the sounds of it, your tutor should read it too. It is an excellent all round paleomag book.
  8. Sep 4, 2011 #7
    thanks, thats the kind of in depth stuff i was trying to find.

    i will need to take some time out to get through that, as i cant see from this data where the field reverses rather than weakens, but i presume it just needs more reading and what this papers does is this.

    1. plots distributions of the direction of the earths magnetic domains at each period in time.

    2. Finds these are consistent with a single direction across the entire planet at a resolution that is reasonable to provide an overall picture and that this overal picture reguarly flips orientation domains.

    3. seeks to falsify the data by seeking out local heat related domain flips as well as crustal overturn which both which can confound the data.
  9. Sep 4, 2011 #8
    annoying. google books has all but chapter 4 and the uni library only has reviews. However i recognize the name McElhinny and think they put out a seminal paper which might provide a brief overview.

    I do recall somebody pointing out that McElhinny can not so confidently extract latitude of the orientation of magnetic domains from the data as has been carried out. finals on other stuff so a come back later for project.
  10. Sep 4, 2011 #9
    thanks for other replies. Primarily trying extract the in depth technical data for this subject. Not easy, there appears to be more geology books than journal publications for some reason. i guess thats due to them being out on the field most of the time.
  11. Sep 4, 2011 #10
    The surveying of the earth's magnetic field over the oceans provided the most compelling evidence for field reversals in conjunction with evidence for sea floor spreading. It is important to note that the anomalies are formed into the newly formed rock as it is cooled below its Curie temperature at the mid-ocean ridge. However, these anomalies migrate away from the ridge as the ocean floor physically moves away from the spreading centre. The point being that the evidence is not only found at the ridge; the evidence is found over the entire ocean floor. The compelling thing about it is that the same pattern of magnetic reversals is found either side of the spreading ridge. It really is beautiful.

    True. But the link you have provided does not help us to find out where those other places are.

    I wouldn't spend too much time worrying about this. The plots are not evidence for magnetic reversals. They are using the magnetic reversals as a dating mechanism for a geochemical property of the rocks. This does not get at the heart of the question you originally asked.
  12. Sep 4, 2011 #11
    The issue is that when we are making a measurement of the magnetic field we are measuring everything. Whatever sources of magnetic field are out there, be they the Earth's magnetic field today or the rocks of 50 million years ago, we are measuring it all together in one bulk measurement (not to mention all the sources of "noise").

    Now we can isolate bits of rock and analyse the orientation of their magnetic field in the lab. But that is not what was routinely done by the US military when they first started surveying the oceans. They just measured the whole field, and what they found was that the field got a bit stronger here, then a bit weaker over there, and then a bit stronger again, and when they plotted it all up it looked kind of stripy and they thought that that was kind of interesting. Why would the magnetic field look like that?

    It turns out that it is because of the alignment of "magnetic domains" in the rocks. When the rocks were created they were very hot, they were above their http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curie_temperature" [Broken] and as the rock cooled the crystal in the rock formed little magnetic domains which lined up with the prevailing geomagnetic field and were frozen solid in place. Then the field reversed, and the new rocks that were being created all lined up their magnetic domains in the opposite direction.

    So now when we measure the magnetic field we find that the magnetic field is stronger if the rocks were formed at a time when the magnetic field was in the same direction as it is today -- because it adds to the Earth's magnetic field. When we run our magnetometer over some rocks that were formed at a time when the magnetic field was in the opposite direction to what it is today we find that the magnetic field is weaker, because the magnetic field of the rocks is "fighting" against the earth's present magnetic field. So what we measure is a strengthening and weakening of the magnetic field today, but this is caused by complete field reversals in the past. To confirm this you would need to look closely at samples of the rock in the lab and to measure the direction of the magnetic field -- these studies have been done.
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  13. Sep 4, 2011 #12


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    Doesn't one of the theories regarding field reversal say that the main field will start to wander and break up?

    I was just looking at the following field map:

    Figure 2. Total magnetic field presented in nanoTeslas
    (please click on the image for the reference.)

    And it looks as though we currently have two magnetic north poles, and one magnetic south pole.

    Is this correct?

    disclaimer: I am not a geophysicist, have never been one, and doubt I ever will be. But I do like playing with magnets.
  14. Sep 4, 2011 #13


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  15. Sep 4, 2011 #14
    Ok thanks, well explained. so basically where the field is weaker the magnetic domains are actually completely flipped but this is hard to tell in the ground. so in the ground we really cant know if its flipped or just wandered.

    A piece of this weak rock has to be cut out, with its north pole labeled, and another piece cut out where the field is strong and similarly labeled, there would be complete dipole reversals of each other under lab conditions with magnetic shielding from the earths background field(presuming the magnetic oxides are similar) ?

    If anybody knows the best papers which summarize that evidence where its completely clear that we have flipping and not just wander or fluctuation that would be useful thanks.
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  16. Sep 4, 2011 #15

    yeh i have seen these simulations, but had the problem they may have modeled presumptions.

    another aspect i don't get is that the hard ferromagnetic core where the bulk of the magnetic field comes from, how does this undergo a domain flip due to paramagnetic fluids sloshing around it. These fluids are kind of random in their turbulence and they put out a weaker field than the core, so where do they get the consistency and magnetic power to re-orientate the hardcores magnetic dipole.

    Especially as the hard core itself remains cooler due to convection so its curie temp is not being raised. So there is another question, what is the actual reversal mechanism. These new models point more to the idea that the soft outer core can really just modulate and not flip the hard cores dipole.

    these are the recent articles on the hard core of the earth being a lower temperature dipole BTW. It even says "A cross-section of the earth's interior shows the outer crust, the hot gooey mantle, the liquid outer core and the solid, frozen inner core (gray). (Calvin J. Hamilton graphic)"

    Although i dont know what they mean by frozen as in it was frozen and its temp is higher now.

    http://newscenter.berkeley.edu/2010/12/16/earth-magnetic-field/" [Broken]



    it says in the news report

    "The Earth’s magnetic field is produced in the outer two-thirds of the planet’s iron/nickel core. This outer core, about 1,400 miles thick, is liquid, while the inner core is a frozen iron and nickel wrecking ball with a radius of about 800 miles – roughly the size of the moon. The core is surrounded by a hot, gooey mantle and a rigid surface crust."

    So if the inner core is 800 miles radius of compressed and cool iron/ nickel would this not be a pretty strong magnetic dipole structure on its own.
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  17. Sep 4, 2011 #16


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  18. Sep 4, 2011 #17
    So the theory is that whatever field was prevalent at the time the rock cooled below its Curie temperature will be locked into the rock. Actually you'll find that it can alter a bit with weathering, and there is alway the distinct possibility that the rock may be tilted -- even completely overturned -- by later geotectonic activity. It's never quite THAT simple.

    But yes, if you wish to find the magnetic field of the rock (and then infer that this represents the geomagnetic field at the time of its formation) then you need to isolate a sample of it.

    This is not my area and so I do not know the BEST papers. You could try this one (http://www.springerlink.com/content/c5m8212702058nw8/) to see a study of the rocks in the Deccan Traps -- which themselves are extremely interesting for other geological reasons.
  19. Sep 4, 2011 #18
    The inner core is not permanently magnetised. This is quite simple to see. Curie temperature gets lower with increasing pressure -- that means that at the centre of the Earth the curie temperature will be quite low (the pressure being quite high!). Temperature increases with depth -- that is another way of saying that the temperature of the inner core is really very high. The conclusion of this, if you think about it (and perhaps if necessary check a few numbers,) is that it is impossible for the inner core to be permanently magnetised.

    EDIT: I should also mention that above the Curie temperature it is not possible for a body to have a permanent magnetic field.

    The geomagnetic field is generated by the geodynamo as modelled by Glatzmeier and others.
  20. Sep 4, 2011 #19
    thanks. Ive seen this material, but problem is every few years the onions sway back and forwards between scientists as to various parameters and models, and i am curious as to whether there is ferromagnetic order at the inner core despite the high temperatures.

    e.g. a while back this summary explains opinion of the inner core structure


    Prevalent opinion before these calculations held that iron's crystal structure in the inner core was bcc. To the contrary, the calculations showed, bcc iron is unstable at high pressure and not likely to exist in the inner core.

    now we have this from japan last year.


    The detected travel-time anomalies can only be disclosed by a lattice-preferred orientation of a body-centered-cubic iron aggregate, having a fraction of their [111] crystal axes parallel to the Earth’s rotation axis. This is compelling evidence for the presence of a body-centered-cubic Fe phase at the top of the Earth’s inner core.

    At the top of the inner core as pointed out by other recent research there is supposed to be freezing occurring due massive latent convection.


    About 60 percent of the power generated inside the earth likely comes from the exclusion of light elements from the solid inner core as it freezes and grows, he said. This constantly builds up crud in the outer core.

    The Earth’s magnetic field is produced in the outer two-thirds of the planet’s iron/nickel core. This outer core, about 1,400 miles thick, is liquid, while the inner core is a frozen iron and nickel wrecking ball with a radius of about 800 miles – roughly the size of the moon. The core is surrounded by a hot, gooey mantle and a rigid surface crust.

    BTW anybody have any idea what this crud is ?

    Although papers from the 1950's negate the possibility of high pressure overcoming the curie temps at inner core pressure using calculation from the models of that time, curie temps appear to rise in line with pressure when an apparatus is actually devised, as more recently.

    http://iris.elf.stuba.sk/JEEEC/data/pdf/8s_106-6.pdf [Broken]

    Mária Zentková* – Zdenĕk Arnold** - Matúš Mihalik*** - Marián Mihalik* – Anton Zentko * -
    Jiří Kamarád** - Zuzana Mitróová* - Slavomír Maťaš*
    Two different methods were used to demonstrate that high pressure is a useful tool for investigation of magnetic properties. We report
    on the effect of high pressure on the ferromagnetic transition in PrNi single crystal. The Curie temperature was found to increase
    under pressure up to 0.9 GPa with a positive pressure coefficient Tc/p = 1 K/GPa. Such a behavior has been attributed to
    enhancement of ferromagnetic coupling between Pr ions in PrNi due to pressure induced instabilities of the crystal field singlet
    ground state of PrNi. The measurement was realized by transformer method. Additionally, the effect of pressure on magnetic properties
    of Cr3[Cr(CN)6]2 x 15 H2O has been studied by means of SQUID magnetometry. Observed increase of Curie temperature
    with the pressure coefficient Tc/p = 26 K/GPa can be explained by pressure induced increased overlapping of magnetic orbitals.

    However i have not found any recent calculation of this effect for earths core to explain how it can have the Bcc structure.

    i think this equation is used for this.


    So im just wondering if there can be ferromagnetism at the surface of inner core. The new models are saying it has a Bcc structure and at this layer temperatures are freezing. Are these linked ?
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  21. Sep 4, 2011 #20
    thanks for that, looks like i might have to hassle a geologist if i read a load of stuff and its still not clear. Luckily got other exams to to distract me from this momentary obsession for a month or so.
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