Earth’s magnetic field FLIPPED 42,000 years ago, creating a climate ‘disaster’ that wiped out the Neanderthals – and it could happen again, study warns
- Australian researchers have found radiocarbon spikes in ancient kauri trees
- They reveal a breakdown of Earth’s magnetic field that sparked climate shifts
- The leadup to this breakdown led to lethal radiation exposure and extinctions
A reversal of the magnetic poles 42,000 years ago triggered catastrophic climate change and may have wiped out Neanderthals, a new study shows.
Australian researchers have analysed the radiocarbon record from ancient trees in New Zealand that were alive when the magnetic poles flipped.
The trees revealed spikes in atmospheric radiocarbon levels, caused by the collapse of Earth’s magnetic field and changing solar winds.
But preceding the flip was a weakening of the magnetic fields, causing electrical storms, crimson skies, widespread auroras and lethal cosmic radiation that frazzled our early ancestors and the Earth’s wildlife.
The researchers dubbed this danger period the ‘Adams Transitional Geomagnetic Event’, or ‘Adams Event’ for short – a tribute to science fiction writer Douglas Adams.
The British author famously wrote in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that ’42’ was the answer to life, the universe, and everything.
With the Earth’s magnetic field having weakened by around nine per cent in the past 170 years, researchers warn that the next apocalyptic polar flip ‘may be just around the corner’.
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Preceding the flip was a weakening of the magnetic fields, causing electrical storms, crimson skies and lethal cosmic radiation that frazzled our early ancestors and the Earth’s wildlife
The international study has been co-led by UNSW Sydney and the South Australian Museum.
‘For the first time ever, we have been able to precisely date the timing and environmental impacts of the last magnetic pole switch,’ says Chris Turney, a professor at UNSW Science and co-lead author of the study.
‘The findings were made possible with ancient New Zealand kauri trees, which have been preserved in sediments for over 40,000 years.
‘Using the ancient trees we could measure, and date, the spike in atmospheric radiocarbon levels caused by the collapse of Earth’s magnetic field.’
Until now, scientific research has focused on changes that happened while the magnetic poles were reversed, when the magnetic field was weakened to about 28 per cent of its present-day strength.
But according to the team’s findings, the most dramatic part was the lead-up to the reversal, when the poles were migrating across the Earth.
‘Earth’s magnetic field dropped to only 0 to 6 per cent strength during the Adams Event,’ said Professor Turney.
‘We essentially had no magnetic field at all – our cosmic radiation shield was totally gone.’
During the magnetic field breakdown, the Sun experienced several grand solar minima (GSM) – long-term periods of quiet solar activity.
Even though a GSM means less activity on the Sun’s surface, the weakening of its magnetic field can mean more space weather – like solar flares and galactic cosmic rays – could head Earth’s way.
‘Unfiltered radiation from space ripped apart air particles in Earth’s atmosphere, separating electrons and emitting light – a process called ionisation,’ said Professor Turney.
An ancient kauri tree from Ngāwhā, New Zealand. Using radiocarbon dating on the trees – a technique to date ancient relics or events – the team tracked changes in radiocarbon levels
‘The ionised air fried the Ozone layer, triggering a ripple of climate change across the globe.’
The Adams Event could explain a lot of other evolutionary mysteries, like the extinction of Neanderthals and the sudden widespread appearance of figurative art in caves around the world.
Neanderthals were a species that lived alongside humans tens of thousands of years ago and were very similar in appearance and size but were generally stockier and more muscular.
Megafauna across mainland Australia and Tasmania also went through simultaneous extinctions 42,000 years ago.
The Adams Event could explain a lot of other evolutionary mysteries, like the extinction of Neanderthals (artist’s impression) and the sudden widespread appearance of figurative art in caves around the world
A reversing magnetic field could lead problems for turtles, birds and the compass
The Earth’s magnetic field regularly flips poles every few hundred thousand years.
The exact impact of this flip isn’t known as it hasn’t happened in 780,000 years, however geologists and astronomers do have some idea.
One of the biggest impacts will be on animals that use the magnetic field for navigation – such as turtles and birds.
North on the compass will also point to Antarctica rather than Canada.
In terms of the impact on human life – the biggest risk depends on how weak the field gets during its transition.
According to a NASA study there’s no evidence it will disappear completely as ‘it never has before’.
However, there is a risk the field will weaken more than usual – it is variable already – during the change.
If it gets too weak more radiation will get to the Earth’s surface and could cause cancers and other issues.
However, as it will happen over a few thousand years humanity will have time to prepare for any weakening magnetic field.
The only other notable impact of a weakening magnetic field would be auroras at lower latitudes.
While the magnetic poles often wander, scientists are concerned about the current rapid movement of the north magnetic pole across the Northern Hemisphere.
‘This speed – alongside the weakening of Earth’s magnetic field by around 9 per cent in the past 170 years – could indicate an upcoming reversal,’ said Professor Cooper.
‘If a similar event happened today, the consequences would be huge for modern society.
‘Incoming cosmic radiation would destroy our electric power grids and satellite networks.’
Professor Turney said the human-induced climate crisis is catastrophic enough without throwing major solar changes or a pole reversal in the mix.
‘Our atmosphere is already filled with carbon at levels never seen by humanity before,’ he said.
‘A magnetic pole reversal or extreme change in Sun activity would be unprecedented climate change accelerants.
‘We urgently need to get carbon emissions down before such a random event happens again.’
Dazzling light shows would have been frequent in the sky during the Adams Event.
Aurora borealis and aurora australis, also known as the northern and southern lights, are caused by solar winds hitting the Earth’s atmosphere.
Usually confined to the polar northern and southern parts of the globe, the colourful sights would have been widespread during the breakdown of Earth’s magnetic field.
‘Early humans around the world would have seen amazing auroras, shimmering veils and sheets across the sky,’ study co-lead Professor Alan Cooper, honorary researcher at the South Australian Museum.
Ionised air – which is a great conductor for electricity – would have also increased the frequency of electrical storms.
‘It must have seemed like the end of days,’ said Professor Cooper.
The researchers theorise that the dramatic environmental changes may have caused early humans to seek more shelter.
This could explain the sudden appearance of cave art around the world roughly 42,000 years ago, created by those that survived.
‘We think that the sharp increases in UV levels, particularly during solar flares, would suddenly make caves very valuable shelters,’ said Professor Cooper.
‘The common cave art motif of red ochre handprints may signal it was being used as sunscreen, a technique still used today by some groups.
‘The amazing images created in the caves during this time have been preserved, while other art out in open areas has since eroded, making it appear that art suddenly starts 42,000 years ago.’
Earth’s magnetic field is created by the movement of liquid iron in the Earth’s outer core, some 1,800 miles below our feet.
The iron is super hot (over 5,432 degrees Fahrenheit) and as runny as water meaning it flows very easily.
As the liquid flows, it drags the magnetic field with it – and its corresponding North and South poles.
These magnetic North and South Poles are different from the geographic North and South poles.
The geographic North and South poles are in a fixed position and are diametrically opposite one another.
The magnetic North and South Poles, meanwhile, are constantly moving and over time become misaligned with their geographic equivalents.
The magnetic field is still constantly changing today and satellites are providing new means to measure and track its current shifts.
Scientists already knew the magnetic poles temporarily flipped somewhere between 41,000 and 42,000 years ago, in an event called the Laschamps Excursion.
‘The Laschamps Excursion was the last time the magnetic poles flipped,’ said Professor Turney.
‘They swapped places for about 800 years before changing their minds and swapping back again.’
However, scientists didn’t know exactly how it impacted life on Earth – if at all.
For this study, researchers were able to create a detailed timescale of how Earth’s atmosphere changed over this time by analysing rings on the ancient kauri trees.
A log from the ancient Ngāwhā kauri tree. The massive tree – with a trunk spanning over two and a half metres – was alive during the Laschamps Excursion
‘The kauri trees are like the Rosetta Stone, helping us tie together records of environmental change in caves, ice cores and peat bogs around the world,’ said Professor Cooper.
Two years ago, a particularly important ancient kauri tree was uncovered at Ngāwhā, Northland.
The massive tree – with a trunk spanning over two and a half metres – was alive during the Laschamps.
‘Like other entombed kauri logs, the wood of the Ngāwhā tree is so well preserved that the bark is still attached,’ said Dr Jonathan Palmer, a specialist in dating tree-rings (what’s known as dendrochronology) at the University of New South Wales.
Dr Palmer studied cross sections of the trees at UNSW Science’s Chronos 14Carbon-Cycle Facility.
Using radiocarbon dating – a technique to date ancient relics or events – the team tracked the changes in radiocarbon levels during the magnetic pole reversal.
This data was charted alongside the trees’ annual growth rings, which acts as an accurate, natural timestamp.
Tress can be aged by measuring their girth – specifically the rings that develop over time that increase that girth.
The team identified a significant increase in atmospheric radiocarbon during the period of weakening magnetic field strength that preceded polarity reversal.
UNSW’s Professor Chris Turney at the Chronos 14Carbon-Cycle Facility – a laboratory dedicated to measuring the minute amounts of radioactive carbon
The team compared the newly-created timescale with records from sites across the Pacific and used it in global climate modelling.
By modelling the consequences of this increase, they found that the geomagnetic field minimum (when Earth’s magnetic field only around 6 per cent of what it is today) triggered huge changes in atmospheric ozone concentration and circulation.
These shifts may have caused both global climate and environmental changes observed in other climate records that occurred about 42,000 years ago.
‘The more we looked at the data, the more everything pointed to 42,’ said Professor Turney. ‘It was uncanny.
‘Douglas Adams was clearly on to something, after all.’
The findings have been published in Science.
EARTH’S LIQUID IRON CORE CREATES THE MAGNETIC FIELD
Our planet’s magnetic field is believed to be generated deep down in the Earth’s core.
Nobody has ever journeyed to the centre of the Earth, but by studying shockwaves from earthquakes, physicists have been able to work out its likely structure.
At the heart of the Earth is a solid inner core, two thirds of the size of the moon, made mainly of iron.
At 5,700°C, this iron is as hot as the Sun’s surface, but the crushing pressure caused by gravity prevents it from becoming liquid.
Surrounding this is the outer core there is a 1,242 mile (2,000 km) thick layer of iron, nickel, and small quantities of other metals.
The metal here is fluid, because of the lower pressure than the inner core.
Differences in temperature, pressure and composition in the outer core cause convection currents in the molten metal as cool, dense matter sinks and warm matter rises.
The ‘Coriolis’ force, caused by the Earth’s spin, also causes swirling whirlpools.
This flow of liquid iron generates electric currents, which in turn create magnetic fields.
Charged metals passing through these fields go on to create electric currents of their own, and so the cycle continues.
This self-sustaining loop is known as the geodynamo.
The spiralling caused by the Coriolis force means the separate magnetic fields are roughly aligned in the same direction, their combined effect adding up to produce one vast magnetic field engulfing the planet.
Cochrane company making Virtual Reality for astronauts – CTV Toronto
Stardust Technologies is on a mission to take virtual reality where it’s never been before.
The Cochrane-based tech company is researching how simulating Earth-bound activities can help improve astronauts’ mental health while on board the International Space Station (ISS) — and eventually during long-distance space travel.
“It’s a very important thing that astronauts feel like they are on Earth,” said the company’s chief technology office, Jawad El Houssine.
“VR technology will be very, very useful for this.”
Testing VR zero gravity
The team is the first to use Facebook’s Oculus Quest VR headset in this way and is collaborating with the Canadian Space Agency and the National Research Council of Canada to test out how to make it work outside of Earth — since the technology was first created to work with this planet’s gravity.
Shy of going to space themselves to research this, Stardust has been conducting test flights in Ottawa, using an airplane that can mimic gravity in space, on the moon and on Mars.
“We succeeded to make the Oculus Quest work 100 per cent in zero gravity,” Jawad said, after conducting only a couple test flights so far.
Simulating Earth… in space
This is part of what the company calls ‘Project EDEN,’ with the goal being to create a fully-simulated Earth experience in space — using a combination of virtual reality, artificial intelligence and a haptic feedback suit that can simulate sensations like wind, rain and touch.
The company’s CEO, Jason Michaud, said the project is intended to help astronauts with feelings of homesickness, loneliness, isolation, and stress. He compares it to feelings many people on Earth have been experiencing during the pandemic.
“Our EDEN project is going to be targeted at doing simulations where you’ll be able to play, let’s say golf in microgravity, for the astronauts,” Michaud said.
“If you like, you could play hockey, do some meditation with other people on Earth that could be, potentially, with the astronauts while they’re on the International Space Station.”
(Out-of-this) world of possibilities
Michaud has high ambitions for the project. He sees it being used on the moon, when NASA builds its lunar base planned for 2024 — and even on an eventual human mission to Mars.
The need for engaging entertainment on long voyages is not a new concept for humanity, said El Houssine, thinking all the way back to the 15th century, when Spaniards would play games and sing songs on their voyage to the New World.
It stands to reason that people will need more advanced and immersive entertainment as we travel through space, he said. And so the work continues to make sure ‘Project EDEN’ will be ready for work on the ISS and future space voyages.
“We are hoping to be able to (have an astronaut) test that next year on the International Space Station directly,” said Michaud.
Though many more microgravity test flights are needed to get to that point, he said.
‘I believe you can achieve anything’
As for researching the technology’s ability to help with mental health, particularly isolation, Michaud said he is planning to send El Houssine on his own journey to test the technology alone — in Antarctica.
Reflecting on the progress of ‘Project EDEN’ and his company — which also services the mining and medicine industries — Michaud credits it to his upbringing in northern Ontario.
He hopes to inspire young people in the region with the possibilities of technology — and hopes more entrepreneurs arise in the region.
“As long as you have the drive for it and the community to support you, I believe you can achieve anything.”
COVID-19 outbreak that infected 133, killed 31 at New West care home has ended, Fraser Health says – CTV News Vancouver
One of B.C.’s largest care home outbreaks of COVID-19 is now officially over.
The outbreak at Royal City Manor, a long-term care home in New Westminster, began on Jan. 3 and quickly grew to include dozens of residents and staff members.
As of March 3, the outbreak was responsible for 133 cases of the coronavirus. A total of 102 residents were infected, and 31 died, according to data from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.
On Sunday night, Fraser Health announced in a news release that the outbreak had been declared over.
“With the implementation of comprehensive strategies to prevent and respond to COVID-19 in care facilities, there are no longer any COVID-19 cases at this location,” the health authority said in its release.
The end of the Royal City Manor outbreak means there are no longer any active outbreaks involving more than 100 cases of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities in B.C.
The largest ongoing outbreak in a long-term care home in the province is now the one at Acropolis Manor in Prince Rupert, where 57 people had tested positive and 14 residents had died, as of the latest BCCDC update.
Health officials have attributed the decline in the number and severity of outbreaks in care homes in the province in recent months to the proliferation of COVID-19 vaccines in the system. As of mid-February, some 91 per cent of residents in long-term care had received at least one dose of a vaccine.
Outbreaks in hospitals, meanwhile, have not noticeably declined in frequency in 2021.
On Saturday, an outbreak was declared at Kelowna General Hospital, where a separate, unrelated outbreak was already ongoing in a different unit.
On Sunday, Interior Health announced that the earlier outbreak, in unit 4B, had ended. A total of seven people – six patients and one staff member – tested positive for COVID-19 in association with that outbreak. Two of the patients died.
“I would like to thank the team at KGH for their efforts in containing this outbreak and preventing further spread throughout the hospital,” said Interior Health president and CEO Susan Brown in a news release Sunday.
“We send our condolences to the families of the two patients who passed away and will work equally as hard to contain the second outbreak declared on March 6,” Brown added.
Ontario universities eye opening up campuses this fall – ThePeterboroughExaminer.com
Ontario universities are eyeing on-campus classes and activities this fall — or possibly even sooner — as the province’s vaccination rollout ramps up.
“We expect to return to face-to-face instruction, and more of the on-campus experiences we all love, this coming September,” Western University President Alan Shepard said in a written release. “We know this question has been top of mind for our current students and for new students considering Western.”
And, he added, “as vaccines become more readily available over the spring and summer and as the Western community continues to remain vigilant both on and off campus, we’re increasingly confident of these plans.”
The province-wide lockdown last March sent post-secondary students home from campus, with almost all — except for those requiring hands-on labs for things like health studies — learning remotely this school year. While residences opened to first-year students last September, they did so at a much lower capacity than normal.
Schools now say they hope to have a clearer picture to give their students before the end of the winter term, at the end of April.
The University of Guelph is planning for a “safe gradual return to face-to-face learning for the fall 2021 semester” — or even earlier.
“We anticipate that this spring we will begin welcoming increased numbers of faculty and staff back to our campuses and facilities, following strict health and safety protocols and public health guidelines,” said Interim President Charlotte Yates in a written release to faculty and staff.
“This gradual return will help us ensure we can provide a safe environment for everyone.”
At Waterloo University, Media Relations Manager Rebecca Elming said it is looking to get back to normal as soon as it is safe, though specifics are still in the works.
“We have been and will continue to work with health officials and all levels of government to make the transition back to in-person campus operations safe for students, staff and faculty,” she said.
Queen’s University is “cautiously optimistic” that by the winter term — which starts in January 2022 — campus life will be back to what it was pre-pandemic.
However, for September, it is considering a hybrid model.
“We will still be living with COVID-19 in the fall, so flexible options may still be required as appropriate,” but “as part of society’s hope to be back to some degree of normalcy by fall, we are planning that many small classes, labs, and tutorials will be offered in-person, with appropriate safety protocols in place,” said Mark Green, provost and academic vice-principal, in a written release, acknowledging “this past year has been challenging.”
However, “if restrictions remain in place throughout the fall, such as physical distancing measures and class size limitations, we expect most large classes may need to be delivered remotely.”
Ryerson University says it is “actively planning for a number of scenarios in advance of the 2021-22 academic year, but no final decision has been made” as yet.
“We will not ask anyone to come to campus until government and public health agencies have told us that it’s safe to open and that the safety and well-being of our community can be assured,” the school said in a statement.
“This will likely mean a gradual return — prioritizing areas that would most benefit from in-person interaction. Our goal is to inform our community 90 days prior to the beginning of the fall semester to give time for students to plan to attend campus and for faculty to plan course delivery.”
The University of Toronto said it is “looking forward, with optimism, to fall 2021 when people can once more gather on our campuses, as permitted by public health guidelines … By September, we aim to support students, faculty, staff and librarians to return to campus, while also preserving some of the best innovations of the past year in terms of technology and flexible work arrangements.”
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