Earth’s Magnetic Pole Shifting at Unexpected Speed

Rapid shifts in the Earth’s north magnetic pole are forcing researchers to make an unprecedented early update to a model that helps navigation by ships, planes and submarines in the Arctic, scientists said.

Compass needles point towards the north magnetic pole, a point which has crept unpredictably from the coast of northern Canada a century ago to the middle of the Arctic Ocean, moving towards Russia.

Arnaud Chulliat is a scientist at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado. He is also the lead researcher for the newly updated World Magnetic Model. Chulliat told the Associated Press the continuous movement of magnetic north is a problem for compasses in smartphones and other electronic devices.

“It is moving at about 50 km (30 miles) a year. It did not move much between 1900 and 1980 but it is really accelerated in the past 40 years,” reports Ciaran Beggan, of the British Geological Survey in Edinburgh.

A five-year update of a World Magnetic Model was due in 2020 but the U.S. military requested an unprecedented early review, he said. The BGS runs the model with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Beggan said the moving pole affected navigation, mainly in the Arctic Ocean north of Canada. NATO and the U.S. and British militaries are among those using the magnetic model, as well as civilian navigation.

The wandering pole is driven by unpredictable changes in liquid iron deep inside the Earth. An update will be released on January 30, the journal Nature said, delayed from January 15 because of the U.S. government shutdown.

“The fact that the pole is going fast makes this region more prone to large errors,” Arnaud Chulliat, a geomagnetist at the University of Colorado Boulder and NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, told Nature.

Beggan said the recent shifts in the north magnetic pole would be unnoticed by most people outside the Arctic, for instance using smartphones in New York, Beijing or London.

Many smartphones have inbuilt compasses to help to orientate maps or games such as Pokemon Go. In most places, however, the compass would be pointing only fractionally wrong, within errors allowed in the five-year models, Beggan said.

Enormous Earthquake Reveals Hidden ‘Mountains’ 410 Miles Underground That Could Be Bigger Than Any On Earth’s Surface

In 1994, a huge 8.2-magnitude earthquake struck a sparsely populated region in Bolivia at a depth of around 400 miles below sea level. Now, an international team of scientists has analyzed data from this event to uncover previously unidentified “mountains” deep within Earth’s interior.

Most of us were taught in school that Earth is divided into different layers: an inner and outer core, the mantle and the crust. But this simplifies the picture slightly because, according to scientists, there is another layer called the “transition zone,” which splits the mantle in two.

For a study published in the journal Science, the team from Princeton University wanted to determine the roughness of the transition zones at the top and bottom—which lie at depths of 410 kilometers (255 miles) and 660 kilometers (410 miles) respectively. (The bottom of the transition zone is often referred to as the “660-km boundary.”)

To do this, the team had to look deep into Earth’s interior. But since we aren’t able to physically see below the surface, the scientists analyzed the behavior of shockwaves created by earthquakes as they scatter inside our planet to create a picture of what’s going on beneath the surface.

When it comes to this technique, the more powerful the earthquake the better, because stronger shockwaves can travel farther, hence why the team chose to examine the 1994 Bolivia event—the second largest deep quake ever recorded. In fact, shockwaves from quakes with a magnitude of 7.0 or higher are so powerful, that they can travel from one side of the planet to the other and back again.

“You want a big, deep earthquake to get the whole planet to shake,” Jessica Irving, an author of the study from Princeton, said in a statement. “Earthquakes this big don’t come along very often.”

Using Princeton’s Tiger supercomputer, the team examined shockwave data to determine what the top and bottom of the transition zone may look like. This technique works in a similar way to how our eyes enable us to see objects in the environment by detecting scattering light waves.

“We know that almost all objects have surface roughness and therefore scatter light,” said lead author of the study Wenbo Wu, from Princeton. “That’s why we can see these objects—the scattering waves carry the information about the surface’s roughness. In this study, we investigated scattered seismic waves traveling inside Earth to constrain the roughness of Earth’s 660-km boundary.”

Their results show that while the top of the transition zone is mostly smooth, the bottom is very rough in some places, such as the mountainous terrain on Earth’s surface.

“In other words, stronger topography than the Rocky Mountains or the Appalachians is present at the 660-km boundary,” Wu said.

While the scientists could not conduct precise measurements of the height of this terrain, they suggest that these mountains could potentially be bigger than anything similar on Earth’s surface.

Satellite Images Reveal Interconnected Plumbing System That Caused Bali Volcano To Erupt

A team of scientists, led by the University of Bristol, has used satellite technology provided by the European Space Agency (ESA) to uncover why the Agung volcano in Bali erupted in November 2017 after 50 years of dormancy.

Their findings, published today in the journal Nature Communications, could have important implications for forecasting future eruptions in the area.

Two months prior to the eruption, there was a sudden increase in the number of small earthquakes occurring around the volcano, triggering the evacuation of 100,000 people.

The previous eruption of Agung in 1963 killed nearly 2,000 people and was followed by a small eruption at its neighboring volcano, Batur.

Because this past event was among the deadliest volcanic eruptions of the 20th Century, a great effort was deployed by the scientific community to monitor and understand the re-awakening of Agung.

During this time, a team of scientists from the University of Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences, led by Dr Juliet Biggs used Sentinel-1 satellite imagery provided by the ESA to monitor the ground deformation at Agung.

Dr Biggs said: “From remote sensing, we are able to map out any ground motion, which may be an indicator that fresh magma is moving beneath the volcano.”

In the new study, carried out in collaboration with the Center for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation in Indonesia (CVGHM), the team detected uplift of about 8-10 cm on the northern flank of the volcano during the period of intense earthquake activity.

Dr Fabien Albino, also from Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences, added: “Surprisingly, we noticed that both the earthquake activity and the ground deformation signal were located five kilometres away from the summit, which means that magma must be moving sideways as well as vertically upwards.

“Our study provides the first geophysical evidence that Agung and Batur volcanoes may have a connected plumbing system.

“This has important implications for eruption forecasting and could explain the occurrence of simultaneous eruptions such as in 1963.”

Innovative Method Enables New View Into Earth’s Interior

An innovative X-ray method enables new high-pressure investigations of samples under deep mantle conditions. The technique, which was developed by a team led by Georg Spiekermann from DESY, the German Research Centre for Geosciences GFZ and the University of Potsdam, extends the range of instruments available to high-pressure researchers. Successful tests of the new method at DESY’s X-ray light source PETRA III support the idea that heavy elements have to accumulate in magmas so that they could be stable at depths of Earth’s lower mantle. The scientists present their work in the journal Physical Review X.

The so-called standard conditions of chemistry, i.e. a temperature of 25 degrees Celsius and a pressure of 1013 millibar, are actually rare in nature. Most of the matter in the universe exists under completely different conditions. In Earth’s interior, for example, pressure and temperature rise rapidly to many times the standard conditions. “However, even with the most elaborate deep drilling, only the uppermost part of the Earth’s crust is accessible,” Spiekermann emphasises. Researchers therefore simulate the conditions of Earth’s interior in the laboratory in order to investigate the behaviour of matter under these conditions.

Such experiments often involve determining the inner structure of the samples, which in many materials changes with increasing pressure. This inner structure can be explored with X-rays that are energetic enough to penetrate the sample and short enough in wavelength to resolve the tiny details of atomic distances. For this purpose, usually two X-ray based methods exist in high-pressure research: absorption and diffraction of X-rays through the sample.

Based on X-ray emission, Spiekermann and his team have now developed a third method that can be used to determine both the bonding distances in compressed amorphous (disordered) matter and the so-called coordination number, which indicates how many direct neighbours an atom has. These parameters can be read from the energy and intensity of the radiation of a certain emission line of the sample, called Kβ” (“K-beta-doubleprime”). The Kβ” radiation is generated when the sample is excited with X-rays. The energy of the emission line depends on the coordination number, the intensity on the bonding distance.

Experiments at the experimental station P01 at DESY’s X-ray source PETRA III have confirmed the new method. “We have shown this, using the spectrum of germanium in compressed amorphous germanium dioxide, but this procedure can also be applied to other chemical systems,” says Spiekermann.

The method will provide scientists with an additional technique for investigating the structure of high-pressure samples. “The insight provided by a new measuring method is particularly welcome when different methods have so far produced significantly different results so far, as in the case of compressed amorphous germanium dioxide,” explains DESY researcher Hans-Christian Wille, head of the measuring station P01 at which the experiments took place.

For their experiments, the researchers exposed samples of germanium dioxide (GeO2) to a pressure of up to 100 gigapascals, about one million times as much as the atmospheric pressure at sea level. This pressure corresponds to a depth of 2200 kilometres in the lower mantle of Earth. The measurements show that the coordination number of germanium dioxide does not rise higher than six even under this extreme pressure. This means that even in the high-pressure phase, the germanium atoms each still have six neighbouring atoms as already at 15 gigapascals.

This result is of great interest for the exploration of Earth’s interior, because germanium dioxide has the same structure and behaves like silicon dioxide (SiO2), which is the main component of natural magmas in general. Since melts such as magma generally have a lower density than the solid form of the same material, it has long been a mystery why magmas at great depth do not rise towards the surface over geological periods.

“There are two possible explanations for this, one chemical, the other structural,” Spiekermann explains. “Either heavy elements such as iron accumulate in the melt, or there is a special compacting mechanism in melts that makes melts denser than crystalline forms of the same composition.” The latter would be noticeable, among other things, by an increase in the coordination number under high pressure.

“Our investigations show that up to 100 gigapascals the coordination number in non-crystalline germanium dioxide is not higher than in the corresponding crystalline form,” reports the researcher. Applied to silicon dioxide, this means that magma with a higher density can only be produced by enriching relatively heavy elements such as iron. The composition and structure of the lower mantle have far-reaching consequences for the global transport of heat and the propagation of Earth’s magnetic field.

Hawaii Storm Brings 60-Foot Waves, Damaging Winds, Power Outages

A winter storm reached Hawaii over the weekend, bringing dangerous surf conditions and damaging winds.

Waves near Waimea Bay on the north shore of Oahu surpassed 60 feet Sunday afternoon, meteorologist Gavin Shigesato with the National Weather Service Honolulu Forecast Office told USA TODAY. Surf heights hit 45 feet on another part of the island, according to observation reports.

Gusty winds, reaching a high of 53 mph in Oahu, knocked down trees and caused power outages throughout the islands, Shigesato said. About 26,870 customers throughout the state did not have power at 4 p.m. local time Sunday, according to Poweroutage.us. Debris on Sunday closed roads in downtown Honolulu and in the Waikiki area, Shigesato said.

All state parks closed Sunday morning after the County of Hawaii closed beach parks on Saturday night, Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim tweeted. The Honolulu Zoo closed before noon Sunday because of falling branches. Two African ground hornbills escaped from their enclosure, local station KITV reported, and officials asked the public not to approach the black birds “bigger than a chicken” with red skin under their beaks.

Two evacuation centers opened Sunday morning on Oahu as officials told residents to monitor conditions. The Red Cross also opened a shelter in Kauai on Saturday night. Authorities said residents on the islands’ north shores should be prepared for coastal flooding.

A 66-year-old California man died Friday after getting stuck in rough ocean conditions in Napili Bay, off northwest Maui.

The weather service issued statewide high wind warnings as well as high surf warnings for life-threatening conditions at several shores until Monday morning. A storm warning ended Sunday afternoon.

A gale warning was also in effect until Monday morning for surrounding waters and channels. The office forecast snow and ice on the Haleakala and Big Island summits through Sunday night, with visibility below a quarter-mile at times. The powerful, low-pressure storm north of the state, Shigesato said, also brought periods of downpours.

Researchers Find Evidence For A New Fundamental Constant Of The Sun

New research undertaken at Northumbria University, Newcastle shows that the sun’s magnetic waves behave differently than currently believed.

Their findings have been reported in Nature Astronomy.

After examining data gathered over a 10-year period, the team from Northumbria’s Department of Mathematics, Physics and Electrical Engineering found that magnetic waves in the sun’s corona – its outermost layer of atmosphere – react to sound waves escaping from the inside of the sun.

These magnetic waves, known as Alfvénic waves, play a crucial role in transporting energy around the sun and the solar system. The waves were previously thought to originate at the sun’s surface, where boiling hydrogen reaches temperatures of 6,000 degrees and churns the sun’s magnetic field.

However, the researchers have found evidence that the magnetic waves also react – or are excited – higher in the atmosphere by sound waves leaking out from the inside of the sun.

The team discovered that the sound waves leave a distinctive marker on the magnetic waves. The presence of this marker means that the sun’s entire corona is shaking in a collective manner in response to the sound waves. This is causing it to vibrate over a very clear range of frequencies.

This newly-discovered marker is found throughout the corona and was consistently present over the 10-year time-span examined. This suggests that it is a fundamental constant of the sun – and could potentially be a fundamental constant of other stars.

The findings could therefore have significant implications for our current ideas about how magnetic energy is transferred and used in stellar atmospheres.

Dr. Richard Morton, the lead author of the report and a senior lecturer at Northumbria University, said: “The discovery of such a distinctive marker – potentially a new constant of the sun – is very exciting. We have previously always thought that the magnetic waves were excited by the hydrogen at the surface, but now we have shown that they are excited by these sound waves. This could lead to a new way to examine and classify the behaviour of all stars under this unique signature. Now we know the signature is there, we can go looking for it on other stars.

“The sun’s corona is over one hundred times hotter than its surface and energy stemming from the Alfvénic waves is believed to be responsible for heating the corona to a temperature of around one million degrees. The Alfvénic waves are also responsible for heating and accelerating powerful solar wind from the sun which travels through the solar system. These winds travel at speeds of around a million miles per hour. They also affect the atmosphere of stars and planets, impacting on their own magnetic fields, and cause phenomena such as aurora.”

Dr. Morton added: “Our evidence shows that the sun’s internal acoustic oscillations play a significant role in exciting the magnetic Alfvénic waves. This can give the waves different properties and suggests that they are more susceptible to an instability, which could lead to hotter and faster solar winds.”

Dr. Morton and Professor McLaughlin are currently working with NASA to analyse images of the sun which were taken by NASA’s High-Resolution Coronal Imager, Hi-C.

A Thousand New Objects And Phenomena In Night Sky

Casual stargazers may look at the black area among stars and think that there’s nothing there except empty space. But the night sky hides many secrets invisible to the naked eye.

Less than a year into its mission, a sky-survey camera in Southern California shows just how full the sky is. The Zwicky Transient Facility, based at the Palomar Observatory in San Diego County, has identified over a thousand new objects and phenomena in the night sky, including more than 1,100 new supernovae and 50 near-Earth asteroids, as well as binary star systems and black holes. Operated by Caltech, the ZTF is a public-private partnership between the National Science Foundation and a consortium of nine other institutions around the globe, including the University of Washington. The ZTF collaboration’s six latest papers, which describe these discoveries as well as the ZTF’s data mining, sorting and alert systems, have been accepted for publication in the journal Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.

Eric Bellm, the ZTF survey scientist and a research assistant professor of astronomy at UW, is lead author on a paper describing the ZTF’s technical systems and major findings since the survey began on March 20, 2018. Maria Patterson, a data scientist formerly with the UW Department of Astronomy’s DIRAC Institute, is lead author on another paper describing the ZTF’s alert system for notifying science teams of possible new objects in the sky or significant changes to existing objects.

“The ZTF mission is to identify changes in the night sky and alert the astronomical field of these discoveries as quickly as possible,” said Bellm, who is also a fellow with the DIRAC Institute. “The results and specifications reported in these six papers demonstrate that the ZTF has in place a pipeline to identify new objects, as well as analyze and disseminate information about them quickly to the astronomy community.”

Science teams need quick alerts so that they could, if needed, arrange for follow-up observations of individual objects by other observatories, Bellm added.

The ZTF accomplishes its survey goals through a digital camera, consisting of 16 charge-coupled devices, mounted to the 48-inch-aperture Samuel Oschin Telescope at Palomar. A single image from the camera covers an area about 240 times the size of the moon; in just one night, the ZTF could image the entire night sky visible from the Northern Hemisphere. So far, the ZTF camera has imaged more than 1 billion stars in our galaxy alone. By comparing new images to old, the ZTF can identify objects that are new, such as a supernova lighting up for the first time, or changes to existing objects, such as a star brightening in luminosity.

The ZTF undertakes surveys for public agencies such as the National Science Foundation, as well as private entities. The sheer volume of data generated by the ZTF necessitated a new approach to data analysis and alerts, according to Bellm.

“Every image that the ZTF takes contributes to at least one survey,” said Bellm. “We needed to put an automated alert system in place that would inform the relevant survey teams — in near-real time — of every potential change or new object that the ZTF would uncover, which could be more than a million in a single night.” Patterson, Bellm and other UW scientists — including Mario Juric, associate professor of astronomy and senior data fellow with the eScience Institute — led the effort within the ZTF to craft the automated alert system. They utilized two open-source technologies: Kafka, a real-time data-streaming platform, and Avro, a framework to serialize data for transmission and storage. The completed alert system, which was first deployed in June 2018, has successfully generated and distributed up to 1.2 million ZTF alerts each night — with each alert going out to survey teams approximately 10 seconds after it was automatically generated.

“Through these alert systems, the ZTF is sharing every change it finds with our survey partners,” said Bellm. “They are receiving every bit of data.”

Survey partners, in turn, are experimenting with machine-learning classification systems and other analysis tools to sort through the alerts. The ZTF’s alert system is a proving ground for future “automated, time-domain astronomy” missions such as the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, said Bellm. The LSST, which is expected to begin its sky surveys in 2022, should generate about 10 million alerts per night, which is about 10 times the maximum alert volume of the ZTF. But the ZTF alert system could form the basis of a scaled-up alert pipeline for the LSST, according to Bellm.

“We are very pleased with the opportunities that the ZTF mission has provided us,” said Bellm. “It is reassuring to know that we have the tools at hand today that are useful not only for ongoing surveys at the ZTF, but also future missions like the LSST.”