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What is a Pole Shift?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 23, 2024
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A pole shift refers to the Earth's magnetic field reversing its polarity. If a magnetic reversal occurred today, compasses would point south rather than north.

In the past 15 million years, scientists found that these shifts occurred four times every 1 million years. Though this averages out to once every 250,000 years, switches do not occur at regular intervals. During one period in the Cretaceous, polarity remained constant for as long as 30 million years, though this is believed to be an anomaly. The last pole shift took place 790,000 years ago, causing some scientists to believe that the Earth is due, while others speculate a reversal is already underway.

Dynamic processes taking place deep inside the planet generate Earth's magnetic field. A core of molten iron surrounds the inner core of solid iron, each rotating at different rates. Their interaction, and perhaps other geophysical processes not yet understood, creates what scientists call a "hydromagnetic dynamo." This self-perpetuating electric field acts in some ways like a gigantic bar magnet.

The Earth's magnetic field extends into space for tens of thousands of miles from the planet's poles. It not only protects the planet from solar radiation but plays a fundamental role in overall climate, weather patterns, and migratory habits of animals. If the poles were to reverse instantly, destruction would be global, from earthquakes and volcanic eruptions to melting of Arctic ice and vast flooding. Evidence suggests that pole shifts happen gradually, however, taking anywhere from 1,000 - 28,000 years. The last four flip-flops took about 7,000 years each.

Evidence for these shifts came unexpectedly in the 1950s while exploring seafloor spreading along the mid-Atlantic ridge. Here, molten material wells up, cools and hardens, creating new sea crust, pushing the old crust outwards. Magnetic particles or iron oxides in the lava act like tiny compass needles, aligning themselves with the magnetic field, leaving a permanent record of the Earth's polarity at the time the crust is created. By reading the orientation of the oxides at various distances out from the point of welling, scientists can "look back in time." What they found was striping or alternating bands — periods of reversal throughout history.

Some researchers believe a pole shift is underway today because the magnetic field has decreased in intensity as much as 10% - 15% over the last 150 years, with the rate of decay increasing more significantly in recent years. If this trend continues, the magnetic field will be gone in 1,000 to 2,000 years. A weakening magnetic field is a precursor to the shifting, though it's acknowledged the current decay might also be attributable to other unknown causes, or might reverse itself.

In the case of a pole shift, once the magnetic field weakens enough, the field directions undergo a near-180° switch before strengthening and stabilizing in the new orientation. Scientists don't really know how long this process takes, but what is known is that it takes twice as long at the poles as at the equator. So while compasses at the mid-latitudes might point south after a 3,000-year transition, compasses at the poles would continue to point north for another 3,000 years.

The actual mechanisms behind this phenomena are still unknown. Some theories suggest comet impacts might play a role; others, that the magnetic field is inherently prone to flip-flops. Conclusive answers await a better understanding of the dynamics of this very fascinating geophysical phenomenon.

CulturalWorld.org is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon302629 — On Nov 10, 2012

Actually, past history has been scantily reviewed and the people that did make a scientific effort (Velikovsky) were ceaselessly attacked. Only this month has science revealed that there was a whole Earth magnetic reversal 41,000 years ago, where the reversal was 1,000 years going and coming and 3,000 reversed -- altogether 5,000. The magnetic field was astonishingly weak, from 5 percent to 20 percent. This means a cosmic radiation bath. This event encompassed the largest European volcanic explosion, and the mini ice age.

Since we have arrived at the end of 2012 with still no reversal in sight, I wonder if this weakened field of many streams of n/s is going to be the reversal?

It is about time we ask this question: Will the sun not reverse its magnetic field? Is this weak field of many streams the actual reversal?

By anon294113 — On Sep 29, 2012

The last pole shift happened 12,650 years ago, guestimate, when Atlantis fell into the Atlantic ocean and caused Noah's great flood. The poles shifted then, and killed off 98 percent of the humans, plants and animals. I'm not talking a magnetic shift either. This was a full on crustal shift that affected the whole planet.

The starships evacuated some people, but not very many. I was one of those evacuated at the last minute, so I saw the utter chaos. --Tianca

By anon292617 — On Sep 20, 2012

Read the NASA report. It's all a load of rubbish! There have been 248 predictions of the end of the world and we are still here discussing the next date and probably the date after that. Do your research, people!

By anon284676 — On Aug 10, 2012

What is a sky quake?

By anon258678 — On Apr 02, 2012

Have you guys looked at what happened when the poles shifted a long time ago? Maybe that will help detail what is going in this year of 2012. It will also help prepare us for what is going to come. About the floods, if it is happening because of the poles shifting, maybe it's because when the pole shifts, maybe some of the ocean and water levels rise from the shifting poles.

By anon237296 — On Dec 28, 2011

OK everyone, just strap on your seat belts! Concerned your kids will suffer/die? While giving birth obviously gives life, it also gives suffering and death. Reread that till it's solid. Be practical in food/water storage. Be calm in mind.

Develop plan A, with plans B and C when plan A fails. Allow plan D (for divine) it's unfolding, because that's also D for default.

Gain awareness of your surroundings and actions. Most of all, enjoy your life and loved ones.

By John Pollard — On Aug 31, 2011

@Anon47231: No evidence exists in the geological record for an extinction event killing 98 percent of all life on earth 12,560 years ago caused by "Noah's Flood." The last generally recognized extinction event was the K/T event which wipe out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

250 million years ago "The Great Dying" even killed 90 percent of all life on earth. Flood myths are mainly related to actual events - glacial flooding at the end of the last ice age. The biblical account of the flood of Noah is taken nearly verbatim from much older Sumerian and Babylonian stories, as I have mentioned in an earlier post.

By anon210455 — On Aug 30, 2011

Geezz louise people. Did you really think you were going to live forever? The planet goes through changes. Current man is here temporary. It's not permanent. Never has been, never will be. One day the universe will end also. Are you going to start worrying about that, too?

By anon161698 — On Mar 21, 2011

Speaking of dreams, me and my brother both had pretty creepy dreams, and we both have a known history of psychic ability.

Anyway, our dreams were exactly the same: the first one was about having no light whatsoever, just going around as if it's night for the entire time. We had them when we were about five and seven. More recently, around six years ago, we had one dream that there was something in the skies that was destroying things as it came closer and closer and, as we all know, you don't do anything in dreams.

But possibly the freakiest one I've had is one where I was just looking up in the night sky, and the stars all suddenly became long, circular lines. It's hard to explain, but have you ever seen a long-exposure photo of the night sky? Well, it looked like that.

At least half of a human brain remains unused, which is why some scientists believe psychic ability is possible. Maybe those of us who have the "door" open a crack are getting glimpses of the future. Fingers crossed it isn't the near future.

By anon153744 — On Feb 18, 2011

There is no uncontested evidence that a magnetic field reversal has ever caused any biological extinctions. A possible explanation is that the solar wind may induce a sufficient magnetic field in the Earth's ionosphere to shield the surface from energetic particles even in the absence of the Earth's normal magnetic field.

Another possible explanation is that magnetic field actually does not vanish completely, with many poles forming chaotically in different places during reversal, until it stabilizes again

By anon152606 — On Feb 14, 2011

Wow. So much to take in, so much to fear. I have to say I'm scared and will continue to be, but is that fear fueling this terrible change coming? I have no idea. Why am I scared? I have little girls, tiny little girls, my babies, 2, 4 and 9 years old. I love them more than myself. What if terrible things happen fast, and I am running all over, barefoot trying to carry three girls to safety and there's nowhere to go? A global catastrophe when, what if I survive? Worse than that, what if I have to sit and watch my children suffer, and die a painful death? Is this the horror the bible speaks of and if so, and we believe in God, will he take us away from all of this prior to it happening?

Some say aliens will take us away? Where are they all hiding all these years? If they are real why wouldn't they tell us all they are out there and will save us? Why wait for a near death experience to help? If they are somewhere where we would actually be able to survive, how come we haven't see it by NASA? It's all insane amounts of thinking!

I have also studied a lot, science, mayan culture, and so on. I do very much believe that we just happen to be alive in a time when the cycles of the earth and sun and such are about to click into the 12th hour and things change, bad things happen to earth, and the earth goes on, people will be hurt, if not wiped out, and earth changes will probably be fast, swift and very devastating. I believe this odd alignment is doing weird things to gravity, magnetism, and so on and I believe it will get crazier and crazier until boom! It's a fast crazy change and hopefully if we all get wiped out it will be like being hit by a flying bus and end fast and painlessly knowing nothing.

I have had weird dreams over the last few years, beginning before I really knew about any of this, and recently two more last week! The ones from long ago were your typical weird dream setting but in both I remember looking up and seeing something massive coming towards the earth fast. It was like a cartoon and it came in fast and I just remember looking up and seeing it as it got so close it completely encompassed the sky. it was quiet and it was scary. I remember thinking this is it and I woke up before it hit the earth. It stayed with me forever.

I had another dream a while later, same things and I woke again before it hit. A few years back I had a weird dream I was in my grandmothers backyard and I looked up into the night sky and all of a sudden the sky went completely crazy, the stars and everything glowing in the night sky suddenly began to scatter and move around, almost like they decided to rearrange themselves. It was such a bizarre dream. Just last week I had a dream, I forget all of it except I remember that I was looking at something be it a TV report or some type of window, who knows but I was watching and all of a sudden, the earth stopped spinning and at that second I watched the sun or the earth, not sure what it was, suddenly rise upwards it happened really fast. It was also scary, but in a dream, you just watch, but I knew exactly what it was.

So, I had read not too long ago about the sun, the reversal of its magnetic poles, etc. While reading about how all that works, I was reading up on the earth and somehow stumbled upon a science discussion on how the earth spins and spins in one direction. The spin slows down over many many many years, it stops and does, in fact, reverse, the magnetic field recharges and it starts all over again lasting a long time. I also read in that same article that when the earth slows and comes to that stop, if you were to look up at the sky stars and planets would begin to appear to be moving, just like in my dream! Weird! I also wonder that with this stop of rotation, as I have read, asteroids would possibly hit us as that belt would dissolve and head towards the sun. Could a rather large one be what I saw in my dreams years ago regarding something big falling and literally filling up the entire sky, basically turning dark? But in my dream it was more like the size of another planet and maybe that's what it was.

All in all, yes I do know science is telling us according to the years, we are in tune and time for a major change, time for a major polar shift, a major alignment, and that strange gravitational pull from the center of whatever things will change big time and things on earth don't change big without major catastrophic, earthquakes, massive waves taking out state, not just a few towns.

The plates of the earth will move and shift from these major, major forces pulling on the earth. I know the mayans ended their calendar with this great alignment coming up, it doesn't end, but it restarts as we all have figured out by now, however, it ends when it does because it's a big end and change. All of the ages have been gone through, according to them, and this last one ends, and it starts all over, lasting hundreds tens of thousands of years, until this all happens again,with a civilization far, far, far into the future .

I don't buy into any of the crap out there, movies, etc., but I sure do believe in cycles, and what science can tell us regarding sun cycles, proof of the different earth catastrophes and so on. that's what the world, the planets, the universe is based on. A great cycle is coming to a close and will begin again a moment later. these cycles take forever to begin and end. Someone has to be around when this change comes, we are, weird.

By anon149130 — On Feb 03, 2011

If you believe in god It would be a good time to pray now! Life is what it is and you could lose it tomorrow in a freak accident.

If you're scared, it's because you are not being the best person you can be. This world will shift and most will die. what are you going to do: stand there screaming or try to comfort and help the people around you?

From the moment we're born, we're dying. If that were more readily understood, we would live a lot more peacefully.

By anon147747 — On Jan 30, 2011

its only a hypothesis. no solid grounds.

By anon145074 — On Jan 21, 2011

The polar shift happens fast -- in days. In 1901 a mammoth carcass was found so well preserved that there were food fragments, as yet unswallowed, in its mouth. Moreover, there was more than twenty pounds of vegetation still in the stomach cavity – some of which was not yet decayed. The animal had died and been frozen in virtually a matter of hours (Dillow, pp. 319-20).

The fact is that during a polar shift the sky collapses.

Earth stops its rotation and there will be three long nights or days, depending where you live. After that, the rotation will start in opposite side. But wait. The magnetic field strength goes 0 as earth stops. So they that are under the sun die from radiation.

The crust stress creates very strong earthquakes that set up all volcanoes and super volcanoes. Because air moves with the earth at 700 to 900 MPH, as earth stops, wind speeds 400 to 500 MPH are normal. DNA test of humans prove that we all converge in some point around 26,000 years before. The reason that humans are very similar is that humanity, continually goes through a bottleneck, and let only thousands to live. If 5000 years ago there were only 250 million humans, then 25000 years ago there were only 2000. And this will go over and over again. The lucky one in the government’s underground shelters might survive, but they will start over again from the beginning.

By anon140990 — On Jan 09, 2011

Where is the safest place to be if the polar shift takes place? any comments to that?

By jpollard — On Jan 08, 2011

The poles have shifted before and will shift again. It's just a matter of time. The magnetic poles wander as a normal course. Scientific evidence exists that the poles have reversed and are likely to reverse again. We can't accurately predict such shifts at present. Atlantis is a historical legend - many legends have a basis in fact. I believe that there is much evidence to suggest that Atlantis existed. The biblical legend of the flood is copied almost verbatim from earlier Sumerian legends. The world is full of flood legends. Christian biblical tradition places the data of creation at circa 4000 BC. Any suggestion of "Noah's" flood as having occurred circa 12000 BC would be at odds with conventional biblical thinking. (not that I agree with conventional biblical thinking).

Floods occurring in the 12000 BC era are easily explained - glacial pooling at the end of the ice age. The current global warming scenario will be greatly affected by melting permafrost which will release tremendous amounts of carbon dioxide and also by the release of methane hydrates from the ocean floor. We are in an interglacial warming period.

Has human activity (namely the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, etc) contributed to global warming - most scientists believe that we have - how much is debatable.

Continued global warming will likely lead to rapid global cooling brought about by the collapse of the North Atlantic conveyor. The human race's dominance of the planet has occurred during a warm planetary day between the ice ages. Ice will once again relentlessly scour the earth clean, leaving few traces of those who were here.

By anon136126 — On Dec 21, 2010

Actually it is now widely believed that Atlantis physical location was in the Caribbean. Which corresponds with Plato's words that lay beyond the pillars of Hercules. It is also believed it was wiped out by a volcano landslide near the bimini road and has nothing to do with pole reversal.

By anon135004 — On Dec 16, 2010

Now we know the cause of global warming.

Lavrov Sea floor now melting is permafrost, warm currents swirl the area in Greenland, Iceland.

As the magma spews up through the lithosphere, it melts former cold areas.

Most of the global warming that is occurring is

happening beneath the oceans, especially including

the Mid-Atlantic ridge.

Now couple those facts with the assertions in the

article as to what climatic consequences of the magnetic magma internal vomiting, randomly, but where the lithosphere is thinnest: ocean floors.

By anon128810 — On Nov 21, 2010

Hey, people come here for help, not to find out they could die any day!

By anon114859 — On Sep 30, 2010

If I were to go to the center of the earth, would my location change due to the magnetic field's pole shifting?

By anon108170 — On Sep 01, 2010

Nothing humans do could possibly impact geologic events. However, with global warming causing the ice caps to melt, trillions of tons of water are being displaced to the equator. Subsequently, the continents of Antarctica and the island of Greenland will rise, causing a ripple effect and a steadily increasing number of catastrophic earthquakes over the next hundred years.

By cwatic — On Apr 26, 2010

Have we ever considered the fact that we have put stress on this planet by all of our construction? Let's not forget the fact that we, as human beings, come up with a lot of weight too. Just a thought.

By markcory — On Apr 09, 2010

Hey, did you not read the article? The last pole shift took place 790,000 years ago, okay?

By anon67936 — On Feb 27, 2010

I concur.

By anon62783 — On Jan 28, 2010

There is no evidence for Atlantis' existence as a physical location. Remember Plato was an idealist and Atlantis sounds like the ideal civilization. Also unless I have misread this the author is speaking of magnetic pole shifts, not physical. Physical pole shifts are conjecture, at best, pseudoscience at worst because there is no solid proof they occur. Just like UFOs and alien intervention into human development.

By anon47491 — On Oct 05, 2009

The last pole shift occurred 84,000 years ago. Since then we have polaris, as the northern star!

By anon47231 — On Oct 02, 2009

The last pole shift that happened was when Atlantis sank into the ocean, 12,560 years ago, causing Noah's Great Flood. 98 percent of everything on the planet died. There is ample proof that this happened all over the planet. This wasn't just a magnetic shift, either. The actual physical poles shifted. Those who survived were evacuated off the planet and returned later. We are due for another one now, not in 2012 as is widely advertised. The Gregorian calendar is wrong, and does not match with the Mayan/Aztec calendar. The actual date for that was two years ago. We are on overtime now. The shift was expected to happen in 1986, but it was held, so that it wouldn't happen. But it could happen anytime now, the planet is ready to do her thing. Everyone will be evacuated this time, then sorted out. The planet will shift then, and ascend to a higher dimension. Her job here is done, and she needs this cleansing. There are millions of Earthean Eagles here, ready to evacuate the planet. As I said, everyone will be removed from the planet, to starships. Tianca

By anon28734 — On Mar 21, 2009

Do you think sky quakes could have something to do with the polar shift phenomenon?

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