Evolution of geomagnetic dipole moment and South Atlantic Anomaly

Dipole Moment SAA

The geomagnetic field shields our habitat against solar wind and radiation from space. Due to the geometry of the field, the shielding in general is weakest at high latitudes. It is also anomalously weak in a region around the south Atlantic known as South Atlantic Anomaly (SAA), and the global dipole moment has been decreasing by nearly 10 percent since direct measurements of field intensity became possible in 1832. Due to our limited understanding of the geodynamo processes in Earth’s core, it is impossible to reliably predict the future evolution of both dipole moment and SAA over the coming decades. However, lack of magnetic field shielding as would be a consequence of further weakening of dipole moment and SAA region field intensity would cause increasing problems for modern technology, in particular satellites, which are vulnerable to radiation damage. A better understanding of the underlying processes is required to estimate the future development of magnetic field characteristics. The study of the past evolution of such characteristics based on historical, archeo- and paleomagnetic data, on time-scales of centuries to millennia, is essential to detect any recurrences and periodicities and provide new insights in dynamo processes in comparison to or in combination with numerical dynamo simulations. We propose to develop two new global spherical harmonic geomagnetic field models, spanning 1 and 10 kyrs, respectively, and designed in particular to study how long the uninterrupted decay of the dipole moment has been going on prior to 1832, and if the SAA is a recurring structure of the field.

Illustration of distribution of magnetic field strength in 2010 at Earth's surface.
Distribution of magnetic field strength in 2010 at Earth's surface.
Illustration of changes of magnetic field strength from 1980 to 2010 at Earth's surface.
Changes of magnetic field strength from 1980 to 2010 at Earth's surface.

We will combine for the first time all available historical and archeomagnetic data, both directions and intensities, in a spherical harmonic model spanning the past 1000 years. Existing modelling methods will be adapted accordingly, and existing data bases will be complemented with newly published data. We will further acquire some new archeomagnetic data from the Cape Verde islands from historical times to better constrain the early evolution of the present-day SAA. In order to study the long-term field evolution and possible recurrences of similar weak field structures in this region, we will produce new paleomagnetic records from available marine sediment cores off the coasts of West Africa, Brazil and Chile. This region is weakly constrained in previous millennial scale models. Apart from our main aim to gain better insights into the previous evolution of dipole moment and SAA, the models will be used to study relations between dipole and non-dipole field contributions, hemispheric symmetries and large-scale flux patterns at the core-mantle boundary. These observational findings will provide new insights into geodynamo processes when compared with numerical dynamo simulation results. Moreover, the models can be used to estimate past geomagnetic shielding above Earth’s surface against solar wind and for nuclide production from galactic cosmic rays.

This project is part of the DFG priority programme SPP 1488, “Planetary Magnetism”.


Profile photo of  Dr. Monika Korte

Dr. Monika Korte

Behlertstraße 3a
Building K 3, room 116
14467 Potsdam
tel. +49 331 288-1268