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This summer, the European Space Agency published data that suggested that the Earth’s magnetic field could flip — as in, the magnetic north pole becomes the magnetic south pole — in “a few thousand years.” At the time, I figured there was no rush to write it up — after all, we might not even be living on Earth in a few thousand years. Now, however, new research published this week shows that the magnetic field might flip within our lifetime — so it’s probably something that we ought to talk about.
Sadly, we can only guess at what actually happens to Earth — and all the lovely organisms that live on its surface — during a geomagnetic reversal. Most hypotheses and simulations suggest that there’ll be a fairly long period during the reversal where the poles are all messed up — so at the very least, you can forget using your compass to navigate. Organisms that use magnetoception to navigate — birds, bacteria, bees — might themselves similarly confused.