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Regular version of the site

Article

What humankind can expect with an inversion of Earth's magnetic field: threats real and imagined

Physics-Uspekhi. 2018. Vol. 61. No. 2. P. 191-202.
Tsareva O. O., Zelenyi L. M., Malova H. V., Podzolko M. V., Popova E. P., V Yu Popov.
Translator: K. A. Postnov.
Editor of translation: A. Radzig.

Earth's global magnetic field generated by an internal dynamo mechanism has been continuously changing on different time scales since its formation. Paleodata indicate that relatively long periods of evolutionary changes can be replaced by quick magnetic inversions. Based on observations, Earth's magnetic field is currently weakening and the magnetic poles are shifting, possibly indicating the beginning of the inversion process. This paper invokes Gauss coefficients to approximate the behavior of Earth's magnetic field components over the past 100 years. Using the extrapolation method, it is estimated that the magnetic dipole component will vanish by the year 3600 and at that time the geomagnetic field will be determined by a smaller value of a quadrupole magnetic component. A numerical model is constructed which allows evaluating and comparing both galactic and solar cosmic ray fluxes in Earth's magnetosphere and on its surface during periods of dipole or quadrupole domination. The role of the atmosphere in absorbing particles of cosmic rays is taken into account. An estimate of the radiation danger to humans is obtained for the ground level and for the International Space Station altitude of  km. It is shown that in the most unfavorable, minimum field interval of the inversion process, the galactic cosmic ray flux increases by no more than a factor of three, implying that the radiation danger does not exceed the maximum permissible dose. Thus, the danger of magnetic inversion periods generally should not have fatal consequences for humans and nature as a whole, despite dramatically changing the structure of Earth's magnetosphere.