Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Plate tectonics may control reversals in Earth's magnetic field

Date:
October 23, 2011
Source:
CNRS (Délégation Paris Michel-Ange)
Summary:
Earth's magnetic field has reversed many times at an irregular rate throughout its history. Long periods without reversal have been interspersed with eras of frequent reversals. What is the reason for these reversals and their irregularity? Researchers have shed new light on the issue by demonstrating that, over the last 300 million years, reversal frequency has depended on the distribution of tectonic plates on the surface of the globe. This result does not imply that terrestrial plates themselves trigger the switch over of the magnetic field. Instead, it establishes that although the reversal phenomenon takes place, in fine, within Earth's liquid core, it is nevertheless sensitive to what happens outside the core and more specifically in Earth's mantle.

Earth's magnetic field has reversed many times at an irregular rate throughout its history. Long periods without reversal have been interspersed with eras of frequent reversals. What is the reason for these reversals and their irregularity? Researchers from CNRS and the Institut de Physique du Globe(*) have shed new light on the issue by demonstrating that, over the last 300 million years, reversal frequency has depended on the distribution of tectonic plates on the surface of the globe. This result does not imply that terrestrial plates themselves trigger the switch over of the magnetic field. Instead, it establishes that although the reversal phenomenon takes place, in fine, within Earth's liquid core, it is nevertheless sensitive to what happens outside the core and more specifically in Earth's mantle.

Related Articles


This work is published on 16 October 2011 in Geophysical Research Letters.

Earth's magnetic field is produced by the flow of liquid iron within its core, three thousand kilometers below our feet. What made researchers think of a link between plate tectonics and the magnetic field? The discovery that convective liquid iron flows play a role in magnetic reversals: experiments and modeling work carried out over the last five years have in fact shown that a reversal occurs when the movements of molten metal are no longer symmetric with respect to the equatorial plane. This "symmetry breaking" could take place progressively, starting in an area located at the core-mantle boundary (the mantle separates Earth's liquid core from its crust), before spreading to the whole core (made of molten iron).

Extending this research, the authors of the article asked themselves whether some trace of initial symmetry breakings behind the geomagnetic reversals that have marked Earth's history, could be found in the only records of large-scale geological shifts in our possession, in other words the movements of continents (or plate tectonics). Some 200 million years ago, Pangaea, the name given to the supercontinent that encompassed almost all of Earth's land masses, began to break up into a multitude of smaller pieces that have shaped Earth as we know it today. By assessing the surface area of continents situated in the Northern hemisphere and those in the Southern hemisphere, the researchers were able to calculate a degree of asymmetry (with respect to the equator) in the distribution of the continents during that period.

In conclusion, the degree of asymmetry has varied at the same rhythm as the magnetic reversal rate (number of reversals per million years). The two curves have evolved in parallel to such an extent that they can almost be superimposed. In other words, the further the centre of gravity of the continents moved away from the equator, the faster the rate of reversals (up to eight per million years for a maximum degree of asymmetry).

What does this suggest about the mechanism behind geomagnetic reversals? The scientists envisage two scenarios. In the first, terrestrial plates could be directly responsible for variations in the frequency of reversals: after plunging into Earth's crust at subduction zones, the plates could descend until they reach the core, where they could modify the flow of iron. In the second, the movements of the plates may only reflect the mixing of the material taking place in the mantle and particularly at its base. In both cases, the movements of rocks outside the core would cause flow asymmetry in the liquid core and determine reversal frequency.

* -- Laboratoire de Physique Statistique of ENS (Ecole Normale Supérieure/CNRS/UPMC/Université Paris Diderot) and the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (CNRS/IPGP/Université Paris Diderot)


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by CNRS (Délégation Paris Michel-Ange). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. F. Pétrélis, J. Besse, J.-P. Valet. Plate tectonics may control geomagnetic reversal frequency. Geophysical Research Letters, 2011; 38 (19) DOI: 10.1029/2011GL048784

Cite This Page:

CNRS (Délégation Paris Michel-Ange). "Plate tectonics may control reversals in Earth's magnetic field." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 October 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111021084539.htm>.
CNRS (Délégation Paris Michel-Ange). (2011, October 23). Plate tectonics may control reversals in Earth's magnetic field. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111021084539.htm
CNRS (Délégation Paris Michel-Ange). "Plate tectonics may control reversals in Earth's magnetic field." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111021084539.htm (accessed October 25, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

EU Gets Climate Deal, UK PM Gets Knock

EU Gets Climate Deal, UK PM Gets Knock

Reuters - Business Video Online (Oct. 24, 2014) — EU leaders achieve a show of unity by striking a compromise deal on carbon emissions. But David Cameron's bid to push back EU budget contributions gets a slap in the face as the European Commission demands an extra 2bn euros. David Pollard reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Oct. 24, 2014) — Miniature deep sea animals discovered off the Australian coast almost three decades ago are puzzling scientists, who say the organisms have proved impossible to categorise. Academics at the Natural History of Denmark have appealed to the world scientific community for help, saying that further information on Dendrogramma enigmatica and Dendrogramma discoides could answer key evolutionary questions. Jim Drury has more. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Tornado Rips Roofs in Washington State

Raw: Tornado Rips Roofs in Washington State

AP (Oct. 24, 2014) — A rare tornado ripped roofs off buildings, uprooted trees and shattered windows Thursday afternoon in the southwest Washington city of Longview, but there were no reports of injuries. (Oct. 24) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Fast-Moving Lava Headed For Town On Hawaii's Big Island

Fast-Moving Lava Headed For Town On Hawaii's Big Island

Newsy (Oct. 24, 2014) — Lava from the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii's Big Island has accelerated as it travels toward a town called Pahoa. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins