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"Earth's magnetic field is less reliable than you'd think. Rocks in an ancient lava flow in Oregon suggest that for a brief erratic span about 16 million years ago magnetic north shifted as much as 6 degrees per day. After little more than a week, a compass needle would have pointed toward Mexico City".
The left hemisphere shows that the field penetrating the inner core is opposed in polarity to the outer core, a feature completely unanticipated by theory. "The outer core polarity," explains Glatzmaier, "is continually trying to invade the inner core. Only when the whole field almost decays away, however [middle], does it finally have a chance to diffuse in. Once it does, the opposite polarity gets established. The inner core polarity is the stabilizing force, like an anchor, the slowest thing that can change."
Glen says that there is still much to learn about reversals and admits the possibility that the RTFC phenomenon may be localized. "The reversal process is more complex than these rapid directional changes. This is one place in the world where we've observed this. The other is Steens Mountain. We don't know how extensive these kinds of fluctuations are around the globe. There may be localized eddies. Smaller currents produce fields only locally, which you might not see on the other side of the globe. During a transition, these local features might dominate."