What is remarkable is the speed of the reversal: “The field geometry of reversed polarity, with field lines pointing into the opposite direction when compared to today’s configuration, lasted for only about 440 years, and it was associated with a field strength that was only one quarter of today’s field,” explains Norbert Nowaczyk. “The actual polarity changes lasted only 250 years. In terms of geological time scales, that is very fast.” During this period, the field was even weaker, with only 5% of today’s field strength. As a consequence, the Earth nearly completely lost its protection shield against hard cosmic rays, leading to a significantly increased radiation exposure.
This is documented by peaks of radioactive beryllium (10Be) in ice cores from this time, recovered from the Greenland ice sheet. 10Be as well as radioactive carbon (14C) is caused by the collision of high-energy protons from space with atoms of the atmosphere.
The Laschamp event
The polarity reversal now found with the magnetisation of Black Sea sediments has already been known for 45 years. It was first discovered after the analysis of the magnetisation of several lava flows near the village Laschamp near Clermont-Ferrand in the Massif Central, which differed significantly from today’s direction of the geomagnetic field. Since then, this geomagnetic feature is known as the ‘Laschamp event’. However, the data of the Massif Central represent only some point readings of the geomagnetic field during the last ice age, whereas the new data from the Black Sea give a complete image of geomagnetic field variability at a high temporal resolution.
Abrupt climate changes and a super volcano
Besides giving evidence for a geomagnetic field reversal 41,000 years ago, the geoscientists from Potsdam discovered numerous abrupt climate changes during the last ice age in the analysed cores from the Black Sea, as it was already known from the Greenland ice cores. This ultimately allowed a high precision synchronisation of the two data records from the Black Sea and Greenland.
Helmholtz Centre Potsdam – GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences
Citation: Nowaczyk, N. R.; Arz, H. W.; Frank, U.; Kind, J.; Plessen, B. (2012): “Dynamics of the Laschamp geomagnetic excursion from Black Sea sediments” Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 351-352, 54-69. doi:10.1016/j.epsl.2012.06.050.
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