|Expect electrically charged storms, rising tides and power outages|
Entitled “Severe Space Weather Events — Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts,” it describes the consequences of solar flares unleashing waves of energy that could disrupt Earth’s magnetic field, overwhelming high-voltage transformers with vast electrical currents and short-circuiting energy grids. Such a catastrophe would cost the United States “$1 trillion to $2 trillion in the first year,” concluded the panel, and “full recovery could take four to 10 years.” That would, of course, be just a fraction of global damages.
Needless to say, shorting out the electrical grid would cause major disruptions to developed nations and their economies.
Worse yet, the next period of intense solar activity is expected in 2012, and coincides with the presence of an unusually large hole in Earth’s geomagnetic shield, meaning we’ll have less protection than usual from the solar flares.
Part of the natural order, over the last 20 million years, the poles have reversed, on average, every 200,000-300,000 years. However, we are long overdue for a long-term reversal, since the last one occurred about 780,000 years ago.
"It's not a sudden flip, but a slow process, during which the field strength becomes weak, very probably the field becomes more complex and might show more than two poles for a while, and then builds up in strength and aligns in the opposite direction"
|Say goodbye to our guardian angel (temporarily)|
Given the field's waning strength over the last couple of centuries, some scientists believe we are approaching another long-term flip. Many downplay the risk to humans, noting that the magnetosphere rarely disappears, so life on Earth remains largely protected during the reversal.
However, if the magnetic field were to significantly weaken, we could (potentially) be in trouble. In fact, some researchers have opined that there is "a direct link between the demise of the Neanderthals . . . and a significant decrease of the geomagnetic field intensity that occurred exactly at the same period."