Research ArticleGEOPHYSICS

Synchronizing volcanic, sedimentary, and ice core records of Earth’s last magnetic polarity reversal

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Science Advances  07 Aug 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 8, eaaw4621
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaw4621


Reversal of Earth’s magnetic field polarity every 105 to 106 years is among the most far-reaching, yet enigmatic, geophysical phenomena. The short duration of reversals make precise temporal records of past magnetic field behavior paramount to understanding the processes that produce them. We correlate new 40Ar/39Ar dates from transitionally magnetized lava flows to astronomically dated sediment and ice records to map the evolution of Earth’s last reversal. The final 180° polarity reversal at ~773 ka culminates a complex process beginning at ~795 ka with weakening of the field, succeeded by increased field intensity manifested in sediments and ice, and then by an excursion and weakening of intensity at ~784 ka that heralds a >10 ka period wherein sediments record highly variable directions. The 22 ka evolution of this reversal suggested by our findings is mirrored by a numerical geodynamo simulation that may capture much of the naturally observed reversal process.

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