Leading Geophysicists from around the world say that the Earth’s magnetic poles could soon switch, with the magnetic north pole becoming south, and the magnetic South Pole becoming north.

We all have studied in school what Magnetic North and South are. Earth has two geographic poles: the North Pole and the South Pole. They are the places on Earth’s surface that Earth’s imaginary spin axis passes through. Our planet also has two magnetic poles: the North Magnetic Pole and the South Magnetic Pole. The magnetic poles are near, but not quite in the same places as, the geographic poles.

A geomagnetic reversal is a change in a planet’s magnetic field such that the positions of magnetic north and magnetic south are interchanged, while geographic north and geographic south remain the same. During this change the strength of the magnetic field gets weakened to 5% of its present strength.

New research explains in detail how the Earth’s magnetic field (which acts as a shield to protect Earth from harsh solar winds and cosmic radiation) is slowly changing.

Although these changes are invisible, they can have big impacts on our Earth. The fluctuation is already shifting the location of the magnetic North Pole, and could determine how space events such as solar storms affect us in the future.

You might assume that compasses always point the Geographical North, but the fact is that the magnetic poles have swapped places many times in the Earth’s history.

Earth’s magnetic field is powered by the heart of the planet. At its centre is a solid inner core surrounded by a fluid outer core, which is hotter at the bottom. Hot iron rises within the outer core, then cools and sinks. These convection currents, combined with the rotation of the Earth, are thought to generate a “geodynamo” that powers the magnetic field.

Because of changing temperatures and fluid flows, the strength of the magnetic field varies, and the positions of the north and south magnetic poles shift.

There have been about 170 magnetic pole reversals during the last 100 million years, and that the last major reversal was 781,000 years ago.

It is unclear precisely what would happen if the field weakens greatly or disappears for a time during a reversal. However, scientists believe power grids and communications systems are potentially at risk and a bigger risk of Earth being bombarded by harsh solar winds and cosmic radiation

Scientists however worry that a weakening and eventual reversal in the field would disorient all those species that rely on geomagnetism for navigation, including birds, bees, salmon, turtles, whales, etc. There is no scientific consensus on how those creatures wouldMagnetic poles cope though.