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Catastrophic change to Earth’s magnetic field

Project Description

Earth’s magnetic field provides a protective shield from harmful effects of the solar wind, but field strength and behaviour are constantly changing. Even a modestly weakened magnetic field poses a serious threat to the satellite and aviation technology and electrical infrastructure that underpin modern society. Alarmingly, geological records spanning the last few hundred thousand years reveal spectacular geomagnetic excursion events during which the field intensity drops to only a few percent of the present level while field direction temporarily reverses for a few centuries or so [2, 3].

These excursions have been observed in magnetic records from volcanic lavas, marine/lake sediments, wind-blown dust accumulations and cave deposits, and in chemical records from ice cores and sediments showing dramatically increased cosmic radiation. Yet we do not understand the cause or the consequences of these events. Data available for even the best-documented excursion (which occurred ~41 thousand years ago) is insufficient to answer basic questions such as: What happens to the structure of geomagnetic field during an excursion? Does it maintain a mainly dipolar structure (like a bar magnet) or does it become more complex? Do magnetic field excursions start and end synchronously around the globe?

Funding Notes

You can apply for fully-funded studentships (stipend and fees) from INSPIRE if you:
Are a UK or EU national.
Have no restrictions on how long you can stay in the UK.
Have been 'ordinarily resident' in the UK for 3 years prior to the start of the project.

Please click View Website for more information on eligibilty and how to apply


1. Oda, H., Usui, A., Miyagi, I., Joshima, M., Weiss, B. P., Shantz, C., et al. (2011). Ultrafine-scale magnetostratigraphy of marine ferromanganese crust. Geology, 39(3), 227-230.
2. Brown, M., Korte, M., Holme, R., Wardinski, I., and Gunnarson, S., 2018, Earth’s magnetic field is probably not reversing: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, v. 115, no. 20, p. 5111-5116.
3. Laj, C., and Channell, J. E. T., 2015, “Geomagnetic excursions,” Treatise in Geophysics, 2nd Edition, Vol. 5: Geomagnetism, eds G. Schubert and M. Kono (Amsterdam: Elsevier), 343–386.

How good is research at University of Southampton in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 68.62

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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