A geomagnetic excursion, like a geomagnetic reversal, is a significant change in the Earth's magnetic field. Unlike reversals, an excursion is not a “permanent” re-orientation of the large-scale field, but rather represents a dramatic, typically a (geologically) short-lived change in field intensity, with a variation in pole orientation of up to 45° from the previous position.
Excursion events typically only last a few thousand to a few tens of thousands of years, and often involve declines in field strength to between 0 and 20% of normal. Unlike full reversals, excursions are generally not recorded around the entire globe. This is certainly due in part to them not registering well in the sedimentary record, but it also seems likely that excursions may not typically extend through the entire global geomagnetic field. There are significant exceptions, however.[a]
Except for recent periods of the geologic past, it is not well known how frequently geomagnetic excursions occur. Unlike geomagnetic reversals, which are easily detected by the change in field direction, the relatively short-lived excursions can be easily overlooked in long duration, coarsely resolved, records of past geomagnetic field intensity. Present knowledge suggests that they are around ten times more abundant than reversals, with up to 12 excursions documented within the current reversal period Brunhes–Matuyama reversal.
Geomagnetic excursions for the Brunhes geomagnetic chron are relatively well described.
Geomagnetic excursions in the Matuyama, Gauss and Gilbert chrons are also reported and new possible excursions are suggested for these chrons based on analysis of the deep drilling cores from Lake Baikal and their comparison with the oceanic core (ODP) and Chinese loess records.
Scientific opinion is divided on what causes geomagnetic excursions. The dominant hypothesis is that they are an inherent instability of the dynamo processes that generates the magnetic field. Others suggest that excursions occur when the magnetic field is reversed only within the liquid outer core, and complete reversals would occur when the outer and inner core are both affected.
Disorganized dynamo hypothesisEdit
The most popular hypothesis is that they are an inherent aspect of the dynamo processes that maintain the Earth's magnetic field. In computer simulations, it is observed that magnetic field lines can sometimes become tangled and disorganized through the chaotic motions of liquid metal in the Earth's core. In such cases, this spontaneous disorganization can cause decreases in the magnetic field as perceived at the Earth's surface.[b]
This scenario is supported by observed tangling and spontaneous disorganization in the solar magnetic field (the 22 or 11 year solar cycle). However, the equivalent process in the sun invariably leads to a reversal of the solar magnetic field: It has never been observed to recover without a full-scale change in its orientation.
Outer-core inner-core opposition hypothesisEdit
The work of David Gubbins suggests that excursions occur when the magnetic field is reversed only within the liquid outer core; reversals occur when the inner core is also affected. This fits well with observations of events within the current chron of reversals taking 3,000–7,000 years to complete, while excursions typically last 500–3,000 years. However, this timescale does not hold true for all events, and the need for separate generation of fields has been contested, since the changes can be spontaneously generated in mathematical models.
External driver hypothesisEdit
A minority opinion, held by such figures as Richard A. Muller, is that geomagnetic excursions are not spontaneous processes but rather triggered by external events which directly disrupt the flow in the Earth's core. Such processes may include the arrival of continental slabs carried down into the mantle by the action of plate tectonics at subduction zones, the initiation of new mantle plumes from the core–mantle boundary, and possibly mantle-core shear forces and displacements resulting from very large impact events. Supporters of this theory hold that any of these events lead to a large scale disruption of the dynamo, effectively turning off the geomagnetic field for a period of time necessary for it to recover.
Substantial cosmic impactEdit
R.A. Muller and D.E. Morris suggests geomagnetic reversal due to very large impact event and following rapid climate change. The impact triggered a little ice age and change of water redistribution more to poles alters the rotation rate of crust and mantle. If the sea-level change is sufficiently large (>10 meters) and rapid (in a few hundred years), then the velocity shear in the liquid core disrupts the convective cells that drive the Earth's dynamo.
This section possibly contains original research. (March 2010)
Due to the weakening of the magnetic field, particularly during the transition period, greater amounts of radiation would be able to reach the Earth, increasing production of beryllium 10 and levels of carbon 14. However, it is likely that nothing serious would occur, as the human species has certainly lived through at least one such event; Homo erectus and possibly Homo heidelbergensis lived through the Brunhes–Matuyama reversal with no known ill effect, and excursions are shorter-lived and do not result in permanent changes to the magnetic field.
The major hazard to modern society is likely to be similar to those associated with geomagnetic storms, where satellites and power supplies may be damaged, although compass navigation would also be affected. Some forms of life that are thought to navigate based on magnetic fields may be disrupted, but again it is suggested that these species have survived excursions in the past. Since excursion periods are not always global, any effect might well only be experienced in certain places, with others relatively unaffected. The time period involved could be as little as a century, or as much as 10000 years.
Relationship to climateEdit
Recent analysis of the geomagnetic reversal frequency, oxygen isotope record, and tectonic plate subduction rate, which are indicators of the changes in the heat flux at the core mantle boundary, climate and plate tectonic activity, shows that all these changes indicate similar rhythms on million years’ timescale in the Cenozoic Era occurring with the common fundamental periodicity of ∼13 Myr during most of the time.
- One of the first excursions studied was the Laschamp event, dated at around 40000 years ago. Although it is thought that many excursions only affect the field over a part of the globe, the Laschamp event did in fact involve a few hundred years when the magnetic poles were completely reversed; later discoveries showed that the reversed field was only 5% of its “normal” strength. Since the Laschamp event has also been seen in sites around the Earth, it is suggested as one of the few examples of a truly global excursion.
- Under the “disorganized dynamo” scenario, the Earth's internal magnetic field intensity does not significantly change within the core itself, but rather, its energy is transferred from the ordinary dipole configuration to higher order multipole configurations. The field external to a multipole decays more rapidly with the distance from the source – in this case the Earth's core. The magnetic field then expressed at the surface of the Earth would be considerably less intense, even without significant changes in its field strength deep in the core.
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- Roberts, A.P. (2008). "Geomagnetic excursions: Knowns and unknowns". Geophysical Research Letters. 35 (17). doi:10.1029/2008GL034719.
- Kravchinsky, V.A. (2017). "Magnetostratigraphy of the Lake Baikal sediments: A unique record of 8.4 Ma of continuous sedimentation in the continental environment". Global and Planetary Change. 152: 209–226. doi:10.1016/j.gloplacha.2017.04.002.
- Muller, Richard A.; Morris, Donald E. (November 1986). "Geomagnetic Reversals from Impacts on the Earth". Geophysical Research Letters. 13 (1): 1177–1180. doi:10.1029/gl013i011p01177.
- Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres (16 October 2012). "An extremely brief reversal of the geomagnetic field, climate variability and a super volcano". Retrieved 2 November 2014.
- Rampino, Michael R. (1979). "Possible relationships between changes in global ice volume, geomagnetic excursions, and the eccentricity of the Earth's orbit". Geology. 7 (12): 584–587. Bibcode:1979Geo.....7..584R. doi:10.1130/0091-7613(1979)7<584:PRBCIG>2.0.CO;2.
- Chen, J.; Kravchinsky, V.A.; Liu, X. (2015). "The 13 million year Cenozoic pulse of the Earth". Earth and Planetary Science Letters. 431: 256–263. Bibcode:2015E&PSL.431..256C. doi:10.1016/j.epsl.2015.09.033.
- Valet, Jean-Pierre; Valladas, Hélène (2010). "The Laschamp-Mono lake geomagnetic events and the extinction of Neanderthal: A causal link or a coincidence?". Quaternary Science Reviews. 29 (27–28): 3887–3893. Bibcode:2010QSRv...29.3887V. doi:10.1016/j.quascirev.2010.09.010.
- Laj, C.; Channell, J.E.T. (2007-09-27). "5.10 Geomagnetic Excursions" (PDF). In Schubert, Gerald (ed.). Treatise on Geophysics. 5 Geomagnetism (1st ed.). Elsevier Science. pp. 373–416. ISBN 978-0-444-51928-3. Retrieved 2021-02-18 – via elsevier.com.