An illustration showing blue lines emanating from near Earth's north pole, wrapping around the planet and re-entering near the south pole.

Earth's shifting magnetic poles don't cause climate change—the conspiracy theory debunked

Scientists explain why there’s no merit to recent claims blaming Earth’s magnetic poles for global warming—and what those geomagnetic shifts really mean.

A visualization of the magnetic lines of force surrounding Earth, known as the magnetosphere. The magnetic field, thought to be generated by the movements of Earth's molten core, protects Earth from the sun. It does not, however, cause climate change when it shifts.
Illustration by MARK GARLICK, SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

When solar radiation and cosmic rays threaten to penetrate Earth’s surface, a vast magnetic field generated within Earth’s outer core safeguards the planet by deflecting harmful space energy. This is known as the magnetosphere

Scientists know that the internal forces that generate Earth’s magnetic field can change and that the strength of the field oscillates over time. This can lead to gradual shifts in the intensity and location of Earth’s magnetic north and south poles and even reversals where Earth’s magnetic poles trade places. 

But are these geomagnetic events responsible for extreme weather, extinction, and even disasters? Claims that Earth’s magnetic field is responsible for climate change are rampant online, but scientists say the theory has no merit.

“At this time there aren't any credible mechanisms that could make it a possibility,” says Gavin Schmidt, a climatologist and director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York. “It's not that we're ruling out magnetic effects on climate without thinking about it, we collectively have thought about it, and it's been found wanting.” 

Misinformation around shifting magnetic poles

There are three north poles on Earth: true north, geomagnetic north, and magnetic north. 

True north is a fixed position on the globe that points directly towards the geographic North Pole. But geomagnetic north, currently located over Canada’s Ellesmere Island, is not a fixed point—it  represents the northern axis of Earth’s magnetosphere and shifts from time to time. Magnetic north corresponds to magnetic field lines and is what your compass locates. 

Since Arctic explorer James Clark Ross first located it in 1831, Earth’s magnetic north pole has bounded 600 miles north-northwest and its forward speed has quickened from around 10 miles per year to roughly 34 miles per year, explained Alan Buis in a 2021 blog for Ask NASA Climate. While these changes may have an impact on satellites and magnetic-based navigation—from cell phones, to ships to commercial airlines— there is no evidence it influences Earth’s climate. 

However, the “Adam and Eve Story,” a climate change conspiracy theory that attributes climate change impacts to changes in Earth’s magnetic field, is having a second life on Instagram and TikTok

The Adam and Eve theory was revitalized when it was featured on a January 2023 episode of the “Joe Rogan Experience.” 

Between January and April 2023, the media watchdog group, Media Matters identified seven viral clips from the January episode discussing the conspiracy theory, which has garnered millions of views on TikTok.

The fake theory was coined in 1965 by Chan Thomas, a former U.S. Air Force employee who suggested magnetic pole reversals were responsible for the extinction of several ancient civilizations. Thomas claimed that the first flood happened with Adam and Eve, followed by Noah and the Ark—and that the third event has yet to be observed. 

What do magnetic shifts have to do with Earth’s climate? 

Geomagnetic excursions are significant but short-lived variations in magnetic field intensity that can span a few centuries to thousands of years, according to NASA. The last major excursion occurred around 41,500 years ago and is known as the Laschamps excursion. During this event, Earth’s magnetic field rapidly weakened and the poles flipped, only to reverse again 500 years later. 

A 2021 study connects the Laschamps excursion to climate upheaval, extinction events, and even changes to human behavior. The scientists hypothesized that during a time when Earth’s magnetic field was weaker than normal, increased solar and cosmic radiation was able to penetrate Earth’s atmosphere, altering ozone levels and driving global climate shifts and extinctions. 

But Schmidt says this study is speculative at best. “Where is the evidence for any changes in climate 42,000 years ago that are associated with extinctions? There are no shifts in the ice cores. We know that there was a lot of climate variability over the last ice age, and we have it pretty well-timed, none of it lines up with this magnetic excursion.”

In the past 70,000 years there have been three notable excursions: the Norwegian-Greenland Sea event that took place about 64,000 years ago, the Laschamps event between 42,000 and 41,000 years ago, and the Mono Lake event which happened around 34,500 years ago. 

For Buis the key takeaway is that, “There’s no evidence that Earth’s climate has been significantly impacted by the last three magnetic field excursions, nor by any excursion event within at least the last 2.8 million years.”                                             

How about pole reversals? 

During a pole reversal, Earth’s magnetic north and south poles swap locations. This happens on average every 300,000 years or so, but the last flip occurred around 780,000 years ago, according to NASA. In Earth’s geologic history, pole reversals are relatively common, reversing 183 times in the last 83 million years.

When a pole reversal occurs, the magnetic field substantially decreases in strength, but Earth is not left defenseless. The magnetosphere teams up with Earth’s atmosphere to deflect the majority of  harmful space energy before it reaches Earth’s surface. Some scientists have hypothesized that reversals and the corresponding decrease in strength of the magnetic field could lead to global climate shifts and extinctions, but current data does not support these claims. 

“There's no evidence that links magnetic changes to climate when we've seen big magnetic reversals or near reversals in the paleoclimate record,” says Schmidt. “There's no climate change that goes with them, there's no mass extinction that goes with them.”          

Kirk Johnson, a director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History has spent much of his career studying the extinction of the dinosaurs. While analyzing fossil records and timelines surrounding the Cretaceous–Paleogene boundary and extinction event, Johnson zeroed in on the magnetic reversal that occurred around 66.3 million years ago.

Deep ocean sediment samples revealed significant climate change around 66.3 million years ago, says Johnson. But this also coincides with a large volcanic eruption in India called the Deccan volcanism, which produced some of the longest lava flows on Earth.

“We've always attributed that transition to the carbon dioxide released by the Deccan volcanism and the increase of greenhouse gases,” says Johnson. “There's two things happening: The magnetic field is changing, the Deccan volcanism is happening, and there's climate warming. So that would be an example of coincidental climate change.”

He adds, “The cautionary tale there is that just because you have correlation doesn't mean you have causation.”

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