Magnetic Storm

Magnetic Storm

Ratings: 7.56/10 from 50 users.

Magnetic StormLike the plot of a sci-fi B movie, something weird is happening deep underground where the constant spin of Earth’s liquid metallic core generates an invisible magnetic force field that shields our planet from harmful radiation in space. Gradually, the field is growing weaker. Could we be heading for a demagnetized doomsday that will leave us defenseless against the lethal effects of solar wind and cosmic rays? “Magnetic Storm” looks into our potentially unsettling magnetic future.

Scientists studying the problem are looking everywhere from Mars, which suffered a magnetic crisis four billion years ago and has been devoid of a magnetic field, an appreciable atmosphere, and possibly life ever since, to a laboratory at the University of Maryland, where a team headed by physicist Dan Lathrop has re-created the molten iron dynamo at Earth’s core by using 240 pounds of highly explosive molten sodium. The most visible signs of Earth’s magnetic field are auroras, which are caused by charged particles from space interacting with the atmosphere as they flow into the north and south magnetic poles.

But the warning signs of a declining field are subtler—though they are evident in every clay dish that was ever fired. During high-temperature baking, iron minerals in clay record the exact state of Earth’s magnetic field at that precise moment. By examining pots from prehistory to modern times, geologist John Shaw of the University of Liverpool in England has discovered just how dramatically the field has changed. “When we plot the results from the ceramics,” he notes, "we see a rapid fall as we come toward the present day. The rate of change is higher over the last 300 years than it has been for any time in the past 5,000 years. It’s going from a strong field down to a weak field, and it’s doing so very quickly."

At the present rate, Earth’s magnetic field could be gone within a few centuries, exposing the planet to the relentless blast of charged particles from space with unpredictable consequences for the atmosphere and life. Other possibilities: the field could stop weakening and begin to strengthen, or it could weaken to the point that it suddenly flips polarity—that is, compasses begin to point to the South Magnetic Pole.

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42 Comments / User Reviews

  1. Mike J

    DancingSpiderman and others.
    When will you learn that Science and Consensus does not belong in the same sentence, let alone form a phrase suitable from a scientific methodology standpoint?
    Science is and will always remain the process by which we evaluate and constantly re-evaluate our perception of the natural world.
    Nothing more, and nothing less.

  2. David

    Science is still at it's infant stage! I suspect that the the deplletion of the earth's magnetic field has got to do with the polu tants

  3. Kyle Colley

    i find it quite comical that anybody would try and disprove this many of you whiners out there have any form of schooling (other than highschool science) in relation to any field involving study of the magnetic field? as i please take your mind numbing babbling and head on over to treehouse tv's blog page and whine there....because thats about as close to your level of science knowledge as you can get without being that creepy old person hanging out at the local highschool. and no, i dont have a degree in anything science like either.....but im also not arguing about NOVAS researchers being is an idea, an idea that gets tested repeatedly, refined, and worked until a stable solution can be found....does that make it right? nope....but it makes you a m*ron to argue about it if you lack all required knowledge to understand it....when one of you can come on here and actually prove your lifes work has been the study of magnetic fields....then maybe ill listen to and regard your input as anything more than childish banter....a word to the not so wise... dont act like you know anything about a field people have researched their entire lives and still only have guesses about.

  4. Luyang Han

    Not impressed. A short look in wikipedia and related reports clearly shows the decline of current earth magnetic field is within the standard deviation since last pole reversal. Even when it would be a pole reversal, the field will not simply go to 0 forever and there is no evidence that a magnetic pole reversal will trigger any mass extinction.

    1. lye

      Nice, so you believe wikipedia over a well researched, well funded Nova documentary. Or actually rereading your comment - you probably didn't watch the documentary.

    2. Dan Andrews

      No he doesn't believe wiki over a documentary---as he stated more than once, wiki provides stepping stones to legitimate sites. You check out the links and from there you find other links, all to credible researchers and experts in the field. Wiki is a good starting point to find valid sources that you can read for yourself.

    3. Kyle Colley

      lol wikipedia....thats like believing every story in the

    4. NikolaTesla

      that's what the dinosaurs thought :). now dont bite my head off. but what was it a meteor crashed into earth and some of the evidence they have is a massive hole and wide spread radiation. would losing our poles cause this kind of spread of radiation? not looking for a fight :) just answers

  5. hk909

    I'm not quite sure how some things get dismissed as "junk science" while others get elevated into True Science. Yes, there were places in "Magnetic Storm" where even a non-scientist could detect something akin to a "leap of faith" by certain of the scientists. But this was certainly not the thrust of the presentation, nor were these New Age Gurus handing out conclusions with only the barest sliver of evidence to back them up; they were reputable scientists carefully gathering evidence to back their hypotheses. And, after all, doesn't much of mainstream science/settled science - such as The Big Bang Theory - consist of theoretical constructs composed of observable data? There was nothing the least bit preposterous offered in this documentary, and absolutely nothing that was not based on observable and laboratory reproducible data. Nor is there anything about the concept of a magnetic polar shift - which was the basis of the film - that requires a belief in the supernatural to accept.

    Even what at first appears the least convincing piece of data - that 5000 years of pottery samples indicates the magnetic field is weakening - is backed up by solid geological evidence of that very phenomenon recurring over time. The pottery simply picks up where the lava flows leave off.

    All things considered, this was a valuable documentary offering, not a vision of apocalyptic doom, but an important account of a fascinating natural phenomenon which may at some point affect human civilization.

    1. Devon Griffiths

      Just an FYI ... but Big Bang and some of the newer physics theories are far from "settled" despite their grip on the public imagination. Empirical observation contradicted Big Bang, on multiple accounts. Inflationary theory was proposed as a "fix" but it, too, has problems and some of its founders (notably Steinhardt) have become critics.

    2. hk909

      I agree entirely, which is why I get upset when I hear the term "junk science" bandied about - as if there's a set of standards somewhere that anything wishing to be considered "science" must conform to. Science is no different from any other discipline in that consensus determines what, at any given moment, will be accepted as science. Of course, empirical observation is itself suspect since we can only establish parameters based on what we think yields accurate data: it becomes almost a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    3. Janus Agerbo

      There is a standard that what you do has to abide by in order to be considered modern science. Learn about it instead of making ignorant posts!

    4. hk909

      It would better serve the present discussion to have someone take the time to say what that standard is. Specifically, how the film being discussed ("Magnetic Storm") relates to it. Thank you.

  6. madscirat

    This is the most r*tarded thing I've ever seen come out of NOVA. Scientist plots the MF over human history, see's one hump bigger than the rest and goes Chicken Little. Seriously, human history....human history.... were seeing a decline large relative to those plotted over human history and extrapolating from that a general decline in a geophysical process which has been going on for 6 billion years??? Six billion years, human history, six billion years, 6000 years. NOVA I am so disappoint. This is the sort of sensationalist junk science I expect from the History Channel.

  7. IzirAtig

    You might die in cancer. But don't worry. You'll see auroraborealis :D

  8. MohamedNadari


  9. Robert M

    I will be happy when like so many 'Prophesised' dates, which this is only the latest of, passes. Any bets on the next 'Emergency' 2026 maybe? It's all a trick to increase spending :p If there's no tomorrow why save your money, not that the dollar has any real value anyways :p

    All just global scale 'Scares' a practical joke with a bad punchline on everyone that chooses to remain ignorant of the facts. What are the facts? Find out you should, says yoda :p

    From the comments on quality and imagination I will still be giving this a view, but sometimes I worry about some people ;)

  10. Dave

    I'm not a scientist but I did sleep on the floor last night and I find this all most intertersting and would highly reccomend this documentary.

    1. Will Fitzpatrick

      I watched this because of you. It was good.

  11. Sarah

    The one really irritating thing about this video is that it doesn't mention the immense effect of solar radiation on our climate. I feel like that's a pretty important point considering our current situation and what we can expect and need to prepare for in the future.

    1. tariqxl

      Yeah but you can't charge the magnetosphere or solar radiation with a carbon tax ssshhh don't tell the sheople.

  12. Achems Razor


    Thanks for the site. I guess I stand corrected!

  13. Carl Hendershot

    It will not work please delete. Thank.s

  14. Sadie the Celt

    I just wanted to add that I understood the computer generated time span into the future prognosis, and it was clear from the pictures that the 'swapping' of poles seemed to be a 'gradual' wavy happening, but i still want your opinions because in my simple mind, there is always a point of mega action (i dont know the right words to use)

    Oh boy...I really need a lie down, (and possibly a little nap)after this!

    but thanks for the knowlege - im so grateful

  15. Sadie the Celt

    @ Richard F. Donnelly
    @ M De Lastres
    @ Big Dipper
    @ anyone else

    I am not a Scientist - I do not even have a GCSE in Physics or any Science. I was soooo bad at science in school that I gave up. This is the very first Documentary that I have ever watched, about anything remotely connected with Science - so please bear with me - forgive my ignorance - Im trying hard to learn here! and therefore may I ask you a few questions please? (they probably seem stupid to you)

    Would you consider that the evidence gained from the Mayan pottery is valid? and is the method used to gain such information simiar to Radio Carbon Dating?

    Why do they use soduim instead of liquid iron? , surely such substitution would/could lead to inaccuracies? (was 110kg enough? and if it was - why?)

    At the exact point of pole reversal, would we notice anything drastic? - I couldnt help comparing the idea to one of me driving my car at 100 mph and shoving it into reverse?

    Thank you fo your time! - remember you were young once!!

    1. 7 Billionth Scientist

      1) The pots are weakly magnetic. They can measure the magnetic field in any technique. Not similar to Radio Carbon Dating. The (*Peruvian) pottery evidence would be considered valid, since the Earth's magnetic field at the time is the only thing that could have given the pottery a magnetic imprint. Unless we can come up with some other exotic explanation for why the pottery was bathed in a magnetic field as it cools. The chances of this are very small though.

      2) Sodium melts at 100dg, steel melts at 1500dg. Sodium was used because its abundant and much easier to melt. Always have to trade off accuracy for practicality but for an experiment its normally fine.

      3) No-one knows. Probably will see issues with wildlife behavior. Some physiological symptoms in humans perhaps. Earthquakes. Eruptions. Subtle things like cancer as they mentioned. Eye disease. Precision electronics malfunction. In comparison to the effects of Global Warming, it's probably going to pale in comparison

      -> Not stupid questions. I think science probably would have been suitable for you. Why not take up some online courses for the areas you're interested in? Don't factor your past experience in school into it.

  16. Albert Einstein Jr

    I don't normaly bother commenting on the videos I watch, but i just can't help myself here... great documentary, but OMG, what is with that annoying song they keep playing all the way through it... I know, I get it, the song is about some chick drawn to some guy by his "magnetic field" and the doc is about the earth's magnetic field... but I have never heard such an annoying song in my entire life... and yes, I am aware of Enya, The scissor sisters, the Bee Gees, Will Young etc... Oh and just in case you're reading this hoping for something even remotely intelectual like you'll no doubt have read in the other posts, wait for it... "Jaffa cakes". Are they really cakes?... think about it... I hope to see a hard-hitting relevant documentary on the subject soon.

    1. Will Fitzpatrick

      The song is so shitty I thought they made it specifically for the documentary. BTDUBS - Enya rules.

      I don't know what Jaffa cakes are, sorry.


    so this guy says this and that guy says that and everyone points fingers athier favorite god of scinece , the field has flipped the way and flipped that way again and other planets disappered .

    Why all the worry ? we will TRANSITION out of this playgorund of THING-NESS , be the higgs itself just a state of THING-NESS way beyond eloquent description needed for a simple bio machine like human cope with .

    You are toast ( dead dead dead ) get over it and have fun while you are here , and if that fun is in worry well i am glad you are having such great fun .

    If that fun is in the urge to secure the best for your next manifestation of DNA ( not you the user of the DNA but the real Meta Pyshihcal .... thing ness ) then stres also about global warming ans govermental control .... still having fun i see .

    great doc. i had fun watching it.

  18. Mahmoud

    it's realy interesting , it's all mentioned about the reverse in Quran 1400 years ago !!!

  19. not a scientist

    I have a BSc, yet I do not consider myself a scientist.

    This documentary sounds like doomsday, actually an uncertain doodmsday, they explain. Surprizingly they feel some degree of assurance of this possible doomsday not too far in the future. However, I am not inclined to believe that you can reproduce this scenario with their model. I wonder how was the two century mark calculated for the doom or no problem change in the earth's magnetic field.

    Einstien was working on the subject of magnetic fields, trying to disprove quantum mechanics. I guess he would think this way because the theory of relativity essentially means predictablity and quantum mechanics does not.

    Oh well, we may never have all these answers unless someone can reconcile opposing views, which exist in all types of knowledge.

  20. sunny1

    These scientist out in the field are sure a focussed and dedicated lot. They also appear to be rather humble and human, at least big egos didn't jump out in this doc. I commend their efforts. Imagine spending 4 years, 7 days a week in order to understand a concept and then share the results with us. Fabulous!
    I liked the way this doc presented the scientific studies to support the premise along with explanations of how the whole mechanism is thought to work. Visuals were terrific.
    Some minor issues: there was too much repetition, sort of like we're so dumb we need constant reminding of what's been already stated. If there had been less repetition, less filler shots, and none of that silly song there would have been time to present some ideas of what a reversed pole earth would be like. The ending was just tagged on last minute thoughtlessness---some nice lights and only a few 100,000 dead. What a terrible pairing of ideas. There will be a few killed but hey the rest of the living will get a nice light show over London (presuming it exists).
    Overall though it was quite good.

  21. Achems Razor

    Gravity is influenced by mass, not size or composition.
    The more mass, the greater gravity, re: black holes.

    It is the bending of space-time, not bending of light, that causes gravity. Gravity will bend light. or eliminate it, again re: black holes.

    Gravity (gravitons) also travels at the speed of light, not instantaneously.

    Since the Milky Way Galaxy is some 100,000 light years across,
    and if there is any alignment of any solar bodies, to feel any observable effects if any, may take 50,000 light years, give or take.

    When you are referring to push, you probably mean centrifugal force of a rotating body, that is constantly falling into the source. that is why most orbits are elliptic.

  22. Big Dipper

    Mr M De Lastres.

    Phew, thank goodness you turned up. It was beginning to sound like a religious thread here. I too, like everyone else, am a scientist. I went to science classes in grade school, and I liked watching BBC documentary programs on TV. They then split science up into physics, chemistry and biology as I was becoming a bigger boy, in the big kids class. I qualified at 'O" level, and have been reading science papers ever since, mainly on scientific economic theory.

    I think that gives me the right to comment as a scientist. It works for everyone else.

    With so many bodies in the universe, at any given point in time, we are always in alignment with something. What Richard F Donnelly needs to do is prove why alignment with these certain particular stars/planets will increase our gravitational pull, and not others. Indeed, the gravitational pull has shown no such increase, and we are only 2 years away from 2012. Equally, the solar sun is always directly in front of the galactic core(?), as it is spherical. It could only be specifically in front of the galactic core if in relation to another body, which he does not mention.

    Finally, for anyone who is familiar with Einstein's work on light and gravity, there isn't really the existence of a gravitational "pull", as it is better described as a "push". Gravity is dependent upon the size of the object, it's composition, and it's proximity to a sun. It is the bending of light around an object that causes us to stick to the floor. Magnetism, it would seem, is influenced by this process, and not the other way around.

  23. M. De Lastres

    In reply Richard F. Donnelly
    You’re a scientist? In what field may I ask? I wonder because this argument of alignment and gravity is seams foolish. I have heard this over and over again in the last month. The acceleration due to gravity from any object in the universe is orders of magnitude beyond what we consider insignificant. The acceleration due to the sun is 10^-3 m/s/s, the moon is 10^-6 m/s/s, Mars is 10^-8 m/s/s, and so on. I don't understand your point, and I do not see any sound scientific theory behind this.

  24. Richard F. Donnelly

    As a scientist, I want to let others know, our solar sun will be beginning it's new solar cycle starting this December 2009. By 2012, it will peak.

    Also, everyone knows about 2012 alignment with our galactic core, but few understand it's significance. Since the solar sun will be directly in front of the galactic core, this will intensify activity, including gravity, thus causing a greater probability of Earth being hit by incoming celestial bodies.

    The closer you get to the sun the greater the gravity, but come 2012 Earth will be prime target during this period of time due to the increase of galactic gravity with the sun's own gravity whereas the Earth's position is in direct alignment.

  25. Charles B.

    A very good documentary! I love Nova.

    Revelation 16:8-9 states: "Then the fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and power was given to him to scorch men with fire. And men were scoreched with great heat . . ."

    It is interesting that the O-Zone layer is depleting and now if the earth's magnetic pole reverses (maybe sooner than we think), wouldn't this Scripture be quite possible, especially if there was a major solar storm?

    I wonder how this might tie into this 2012 dooms day scenario I keep hearing about (if anything).

    Agree with Will and DancingSpiderman, that this could be a very big deal and it won't just be some pretty lights in the sky over New York City!

  26. DancingSpiderman

    I believe scientits will arrive at the concensus that, as more Incan pots are analyzed, the Incan potters caused the flipping of the magnetic poles.

    Could it be that one of these cycles of magnetic field weakening was the cause of the extinction of the dinosaurs? The magnetic field gets weak, and eventually the magnetic field is in chaos for a number of years before the flip occurs during which time the sun's harmful radiation bombards the Earth's surface, killing off either the dinosaurs directly or killing off the dino's food sources...

    Wow, will I get to sleep tonight...?

  27. Will

    Interesting... perhaps the effects on human life will be more serious than we realize. Shorter human life spans due to positive ionizing radiation? (free radicals). Mutations to compensate for this (shorter genetic telomeres = shorter cell life span). What about all of our technology that is based on magnetic fields. Increased tectonic activity may also be a function of the inter-polar period. Super earthquakes, volcanic eruptions? It may be safer to live on a space station than earth during such a future.