What will happen to the Earth when the North Pole and South Pole reverse their positions? How will human society be affected when such a reversal causes a weakening of the Earth’s electromagnetic field? Will mass extinctions occur in species that use the Earth’s magnetic fields to find food or to migrate to winter homes?
Acclaimed science journalist Alanna Mitchell (Sea Sick: The Global Ocean in Crisis) asks these and other questions in her mesmerizing The Spinning Magnet. Part detective story and part history of science, Mitchell’s galvanizing story chronicles the tales of the scientists who research the movement of the poles, the power of electromagnetism, the force of the Earth’s magnetic fields and the deleterious effects of solar radiation on Earth. She introduces us to Bernard Brunhes, the French physicist who first discovered that the planet’s two magnetic poles had once switched places. Scientists following up on his findings discovered that the poles had reversed their positions more than once and that a confluence of events—the Earth’s diminishing electromagnetic field and the increase in solar storms—over the past century indicate that the possibility of another such reversal continues to grow more likely.
Mitchell points out that the reversal of the poles will have dire consequences for the world. Electrical grids will be disrupted and millions will live in the dark for days; airplanes will lose the capability to navigate over the poles; satellite systems will cease to function, causing widespread havoc around the world.
In the same vein as Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction, Mitchell’s captivating book shocks us into contemplating the physical forces that keep our world spinning that we take for granted every day.