The shield that protects the Earth from solar radiation is under attack from within. We can’t prevent it, but we ought to prepare.
One day in 1905, the French geophysicist Bernard Brunhes brought back to his lab some rocks he’d unearthed from a freshly cut road near the village of Pont Farin. When he analyzed their magnetic properties, he was astonished at what they showed: Millions of years ago, the Earth’s magnetic poles had been on the opposite sides of the planet. North was south and south was north. The discovery spoke of planetary anarchy. Scientists had no way to explain it.
Today, we know that the poles have changed places hundreds of times, most recently 780,000 years ago. (Sometimes, the poles try to reverse positions but then snap back into place, in what is called an excursion. The last time was about 40,000 years ago.) We also know that when they flip next time, the consequences for the electrical and electronic infrastructure that runs modern civilization will be dire. The question is when that will happen.When next the poles change places, the consequences for the electrical and electronic infrastructure that runs civilization will be dire. The question is when that will happen.
In the past few decades, geophysicists have tried to answer that question through satellite imagery and math. They have figured out how to peer deep inside the Earth, to the edge of the molten, metallic core where the magnetic field is continually being generated. It turns out that the dipole — the orderly two-pole magnetic field our compasses respond to — is under attack from within.
The latest satellite data, from the European Space Agency’s Swarm trio, which began reporting in 2014, show that a battle is raging at the edge of the core. Like factions planning a coup, swirling clusters of molten iron and nickel are gathering strength and draining energy from the dipole. The north magnetic pole is on the run, a sign of enhanced turbulence and unpredictability. A cabal in the Southern Hemisphere has already gained the upper hand over about a fifth of the Earth’s surface. A revolution is shaping up.
If these magnetic blocs gain enough strength and weaken the dipole even more, they will force the north and south poles to switch places as they strive to regain supremacy. Scientists can’t say for sure that is happening now — the dipole could beat back the interlopers. But they can say that the phenomenon is intensifying and that they can’t rule out the possibility that a reversal is beginning.
The Earth’s magnetic field protects our planet from dangerous solar and cosmic rays, like a giant shield. As the poles switch places (or try to), that shield is weakened; scientists estimate that it could waste away to as little as a tenth of its usual force. The shield could be compromised for centuries while the poles move, allowing malevolent radiation closer to the surface of the planet for that whole time. Already, changes within the Earth have weakened the field over the South Atlantic so much that satellites exposed to the resulting radiation have experienced memory failure.
That radiation isn’t hitting the surface yet. But at some point, when the magnetic field has dwindled enough, it could be a different story. Daniel Baker, director of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder, one of the world’s experts on how cosmic radiation affects the Earth, fears that parts of the planet will become uninhabitable during a reversal. The dangers: devastating streams of particles from the sun, galactic cosmic rays, and enhanced ultraviolet B rays from a radiation-damaged ozone layer, to name just a few of the invisible forces that could harm or kill living creatures.
How bad could it be? Scientists have never established a link between previous pole reversals and catastrophes like mass extinctions. But the world of today is not the world of 780,000 years ago, when the poles last reversed, or even 40,000 years ago, when they tried to. Today, there are nearly 7.6 billion people on Earth, twice as many as in 1970. We have drastically changed the chemistry of the atmosphere and the ocean with our activities, impairing the life support system of the planet. Humans have built huge cities, industries and networks of roads, slicing up access to safer living spaces for many other creatures. We have pushed perhaps a third of all known species toward extinction and have imperiled the habitats of many more. Add cosmic and ultraviolet radiation to this mix, and the consequences for life on Earth could be ruinous.
And the perils are not just biological. The vast cyber-electric cocoon that has become the central processing system of modern civilization is in grave danger. Solar energetic particles can rip through the sensitive miniature electronics of the growing number of satellites circling the Earth, badly damaging them. The satellite timing systems that govern electric grids would be likely to fail. The grid’s transformers could be torched en masse. Because grids are so tightly coupled with each other, failure would race across the globe, causing a domino run of blackouts that could last for decades
No lights. No computers. No cellphones. Even flushing a toilet or filling a car’s gas tank would be impossible. And that’s just for starters.
But these dangers are rarely considered by those whose job it is to protect the electronic pulse of civilization. More satellites are being put into orbit with more highly miniaturized (and therefore more vulnerable) electronics. The electrical grid becomes more interconnected every day, despite the greater risks from solar storms.
No lights. No computers. No cellphones. Even flushing a toilet or filling a car’s gas tank would be impossible. And that’s just for starters.
One of the best ways of protecting satellites and grids from space weather is to predict precisely where the most damaging force will hit. Operators could temporarily shut down a satellite or disconnect part of the grid. But progress on learning how to track damaging space weather has not kept pace with the exponential increase in technologies that could be damaged by it. And private satellite operators aren’t collating and sharing information about how their electronics are withstanding space radiation, a practice that could help everyone protect their gear.
We have blithely built our civilization’s critical infrastructure during a time when the planet’s magnetic field was relatively strong, not accounting for the field’s bent for anarchy. Not only is the field turbulent and ungovernable, but, at this point, it is unpredictable. It will have its way with us, no matter what we do. Our task is to figure out how to make it hurt as little as possible.
Alanna Mitchell is an award-winning science journalist and author. She is also a playwright who performs her one-woman play, “Sea Sick,” based on her book of the same name, around the world.
Over 200 Earthquakes Detected at Yellowstone Supervolcano
Regular earthquakes are bad enough. Volcanoes too. But an earthquake swarm at a supervolcano? That really sounds like it could be scary, and scientists say they’ve just detected such a phenomenon at the site of Yellowstone caldera.
According to geophysicists with the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the past fortnight has seen Yellowstone supervolcano shaken by a swarm of over 200 earthquakes since February 8, accompanied by innumerable smaller tremors too faint to accurately record.
Despite how alarming this cavalcade of seismic activity might seem – considering its unnerving proximity to one of nature’s most potentially devastating powder kegs – scientists say we shouldn’t be panicked.
Researchers Mike Poland and Jamie Farrell from Yellowstone Volcano Observatory explain in a USGS update that swarms like this account for more than half of the seismic activity at Yellowstone, and they’ve never actually been known to contribute to volcanic activity at the caldera.
Small earthquake swarm at @YellowstoneNPS, Feb 8-present, 180 events located thus far by @UUSS_Quake_Info. Location similar to last summer’s swarm. This is a common area of swarm seismicity. No other changes noted in Yellowstone activity. pic.twitter.com/n1ZfCjtdrx
— USGS Volcanoes🌋 (@USGSVolcanoes) February 18, 2018
“This is what Yellowstone does; this is Yellowstone being Yellowstone,” Poland told Live Science.
“It experiences swarms all the time.”
Case in point: last June, the region experienced an epic earthquake swarm that was 10 times more turbulent, breaking Yellowstone records on its way to ultimately producing some 2,400 quakes by September.
Ordinarily, the caldera sees around 1,500–2,000 earthquakes per year, with about half taking place during swarms. In the current swarm, the largest earthquake reached a magnitude of 2.9 on the Richter scale, whereas last year’s quakes topped out at a magnitude of 4.4.
These events might not produce fiery eruptions from Yellowstone’s expansive magma chambers, but they’re still a valuable opportunity for scientists to study the behaviour of the caldera system.
The latest outbreak took place in an area around 13 kilometres (8 miles) north-east of West Yellowstone, Montana, close to last year’s 2,400-strong swarm. The researchers say it’s possible the new flare-up is actually a continuation of the 2017 incident.
That might seem like a long stretch, but on the vast timescale over which seismic activity plays out, it’s actually just a blip – and the researchers even say both the 2017 and 2018 swarms may actually hark back to a quake from the previous century.
“One of the potential explanations for why this area is so swarmy is that the whole crust in the area is still adjusting to the big earthquake in 1959,” Poland told Live Science.
That episode, which induced the surrounding landscape to plummet by several metres and provoked seiches (standing waves) on Hebgen Lake for 12 hours, was the largest historic earthquake in the region, killing dozens of people in a landslide.
The 7.3-7.5 magnitude earthquake was due to stresses along faults under the region, but Yellowstone is also susceptible to pressure changes beneath the surface due to the buildup and withdrawal of fluids like magma and hydrothermal water, plus gases too.
For now, there’s no indication that these suspected after-effects are actually a sign of any impending greater seismic activity to come – nor a prelude to an eruption, but if (or when) a volcanic outburst is next unleashed at Yellowstone, it likely won’t be the cataclysm many fear, the researchers say.
“If Yellowstone erupts, it’s most likely to be a lava flow, as occurred in nearly all the 80 eruptions since the last ‘supereruption’ 640,000 years ago,” Farrell told Newsweek last June.
“A lava flow would be a big deal at Yellowstone, but would have very little regional or continental effect.”
Of course, that’s just likelihood being talked about there. One year or another – although it could be countless millennia away – the supervolcano will inevitably undergo another of its incredibly rare, but unimaginably catastrophic super-eruptions.
To give you an idea of how bad that (hopefully very far-off) explosion could be, NASA estimates the global consequences could be graver than a planet-devastating asteroid strike, with ash clouds likely to starve Earth of sunlight in a choking, years-long volcanic winter.
The good news is, that’s probably not what this earthquake swarm is all about.
Right now, we can be thankful that Yellowstone is being sleepy – especially since, even while it’s napping, it remains a bizarre and unpredictable place, at turns deadly, surprising, and confounding.
As long as it’s not super-erupting, we’ll take what we can get – and in any case, the latest swarm looks like it could be over for now.
“It’s slowly petering out, although these things wax and wane, so it’s a bit difficult to say that it’s ending,” Poland told Newsweek.
“Yellowstone is just a very swarmy place.”
Apocalypse to start on April 11 claims David Meade
Serial predictor David Meade, who previously claimed the world would end on September 23 and November 19 in 2017, says the new date of the apocalypse is now April 11.
Mr Meade begins an article on Planet X News by saying: “The fat lady is about to sing. It’s all over.”
Mr Meade gives a list of reasons as to why he believes this will be the date of the end of the world, also adding this will be the year the Antichrist finally reveals himself to usher in the apocalypse.
The conspiracy theorist said the Great American Eclipse which took place on August 21 last year, was a “harbinger of a seven-year Tribulation period”.
Mr Meade added the solar eclipse began in Oregon, the 33rd State, and ended in South Carolina, which is in the 33rd parallel – a circle of latitude which is 33 degrees north of the equatorial plane.
Mr Meade said: “The last eclipse of this nature was 99 years ago (33 x 3)”.
Three is significant in Biblical terms as it represents the Holy Trinity. Thirty three is how old Jesus was he died.
He goes on to say the “crazy people of the United Nations” declared on December 21 that Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel.
This was followed 42 days later by the blood red blue supermoon.
Following this, Mr Meade says “Ron Reese, a Bible scholar of many years … says the Tribulation begins on or around April 11, 2018.”
Mr Meade says the Antichrist will step out of the shadows following this date and “I think I know who it is but there is no way I’m releasing that information.”
He said North Korea will commence World War III later this year and that the fabled Planet X – a mythical planet that is allegedly heading towards our solar system and will knock Earth off its axis and cause widespread destruction – will appear.
Mr Meade said: “Halfway through the Tribulation the Antichrist declares himself in the rebuilt Hebrew temple in Jerusalem. There’s major trouble from that point forward. Everything escalates a hundredfold.
“The Antichrist’s time is brief (a full 3.5 years) but he wrecks havoc on the earth in that time. He creates nuclear wars and as a result there is famine and pestilence.”
Scientists think we all may be dead by 2050
According to research around the future of Artificial Intelligence, the human race could vanish within our lifetime.
At last, some good news, then.
Jeff Nesbit, former director of legislative and public affairs at the National Science Foundation and author of more than 24 books, has examined the latest thinking on AI capabilities.
He concludes that the human race could cease to exist by 2050 – or that we become immortal.
Nesbit explains the theory known as ASI, or ‘artificial super-intelligence’, which posits that AI will evolve into a supercomputer which learns so quickly that it surpasses human intelligence, and solves all problems.
On the one hand, you have the hopefuls like Ray Kurzweil imploring us not to fear artificial intelligence, pointing instead to the older and more pressing threats like bioterrorism or nuclear war.
In fact, Kurzweil argues that mental capabilities are enhanced by AI, and he points out that global rates of violence, war and murder have declined dramatically.
He also argues that AI has helped to find cures for diseases, developed renewable energy resources and, cared for the disabled, among other benefits to society.
Kurzweil puts the date of ‘human level AI’ at 2029, which gives us just enough time to “devise ethical standards”.
Then there’s Rollo Carpenter, creator of the Cleverbot software, which has gained high scores in the Turing test – that is to say, many people have mistaken it for human when communicating with it.
I believe we will remain in charge of the technology for a decently long time, and the potential of it to solve many of the word problems will be realised.
He explains that the ability to develop algorithms necessary for achieving full artificial intelligence is still a few decades away, and explains:
We cannot quite know what will happen if a machine exceeds our own intelligence, so we can’t know if we’ll be infinitely helped by it, or ignored by it and sidelined, or conceivably destroyed by it.
Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, pioneer of digital money and electric cars, has told students in an interview that we are “summoning the demon” with AI.
Speaking at the AeroAstro Centennial Symposium at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Musk made the following remarks:
If I had to guess at what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that [artificial intelligence]. So we need to be very careful.
With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon. In all those stories where there’s the guy wih the pentagram and the holy water, it’s like – yeah, he’s sure he can control the demon. Doesn’t work out.
In a 2015 open letter, Musk and Professor Stephen Hawking wrote on the idea that AI could allow development of autonomous weapons, which would revolutionise warfare – and not for the better.
Autonomous weapons are ideal for tasks such as assassinations, destabilising nations, subduing populations and selectively killing a particular ethnic group.
Starting a military AI arms race is a bad idea, and should be prevented by a ban on offensive autonomous weapons beyond meaningful human control.
Hawking, who is able to communicate via a technology that uses a basic form of AI, also had this cheery proclamation for the BBC:
The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.
He, too, considers the possibility and potential dangers of ASI, explaining that AI could take off on its own and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate.
Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.
But all of them agree on one thing – sometime in the next 30 years or so, a supercomputer will replicate the human brain and evolve into super-intelligence, or ASI.
Tim Urban, author of ‘Wait, But Why?’ blog, outlines the future:
While most scientists I’ve come across acknowledge that ASI would have the ability to send humans to extinction, many also believe that used beneficially, ASI’s abilities could be used to bring individual humans, and the species as a whole, to…species immortality.
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