CLAIM: Shifts in the planet’s magnetic poles involve the earth doing a 90° flip, with the planet remaining still for 6 days. During this short period, cataclysmic events happen, involving heat, wind, floods, and climate change.
The planet’s magnetic field acts as a shield surrounding the Earth, protecting its surface from solar radiations. It is generated within the Earth’s liquid core, and varies according to the movement of molten iron present in it. The core creates currents of electricity featuring a direction, giving us the north and south, and an intensity, which is strongest near the poles. Many variations of the Earth’s magnetic field in Earth’s history have been recorded in solidified lava or sediments, from displacement of the magnetic poles to full magnetic poles swap.
In a recent podcast episode, Comedian and Ultimate Fighting Championship commentator Joe Rogan and YouTuber Jimmy Corsetti talked about the so-called “Adam and Eve” theory. Even though this theory has no support in science, as we will show below, Corsetti and Rogan discussed it as if it were credible. Corsetti appears to believe that when magnetic poles reverse, the Earth flips over itself and stops rotating for six days. Corsetti also claimed that the next reversal should happen in a very near future, and that it would be cataclysmic. A clip from this interview was viewed over twenty millions times on TikTok, and several other clips were widely shared on social media.
Magnetic poles reversals are not a “planet flip”
The “Adam and Eve” theory laid out in the interview suggests that magnetic poles’ reversal includes the Earth doing a “flip”, involving North and South poles physically changing positions. In reality, no scientific evidence indicates that the Earth ever performed such flips. This claim is extremely implausible, as there is hardly anything that could flip the Earth in such a way, apart from a collision with planets or other astronomical bodies.
According to Corsetti’s explanation, magnetic poles reversals would take place over a six days period. However, measurements show that the time taken for a magnetic poles’ reversal is on the order of thousands of years. Geologists found that the most recent field reversal, some 770,000 years ago, took at least 22,000 years to complete, for instance. A duration of six days for the reversal of the Earth’s magnetic field is not close to any scientific observation.
Corsetti also claimed that, during these six days, the planet would stop rotating, but he doesn’t explain where a force strong enough to stop the Earth’s rotation would come from. “A magnetic reversal causes a change in electric currents within the liquid metal core. These currents can alter the forces inside the liquid metal core, but this cannot stop the rotation of the Earth” explains University of California Berkeley professor Bruce Buffett in an email to Science Feedback. “As an analogy, you can’t literally pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”
Forecasting the next magnetic poles’ reversal
Jimmy Corsetti claims that the next magnetic pole shift is likely to happen soon “as we are 200 000 years overdue”. The last reversal took place 780 000 years ago, according to NASA scientist Alan Buis’ article on magnetic fields. On average, the time interval between reversals is 300 000 years, but it varies greatly. Yet Corsetti’s claim misunderstands this average time between reversals with a regular pattern.
Past magnetic fields can be recorded in rocks or sediments, and many were analyzed: they show a large variability of the intervals between reversals of polarity measured in sediments. Figure 1 shows that polarity reversals haven’t followed a regular pattern. Short intervals have a duration of an order of tens of thousands of years, while exceptionally long intervals with a single polarity last 10 million years and are called superchrons. For instance, the Cretaceous Normal superchron lasted approximately 40 million years. So there is no indication that, because more than 300 000 years passed since the last reversal, the next one could be expected anytime soon.
Figure 1: Geomagnetic polarity over the past 169 million years, trailing off into the Jurassic Quiet Zone. Dark areas denote periods of normal polarity, light areas denote reverse polarity. Credit: Public domain. Source : NASA Global Climate Change.
Scientists have looked at the probability of magnetic pole shifts occurring in the near future. Records show that the geomagnetic fields’ strength decreases before reversal events, and such a decreasing trend has indeed been observed over the past centuries. So it is legitimate to wonder whether a reversal is likely to happen soon. However, a few centuries is still a very short period of time on the scale of such variations. A scientific study found that the Earth “is not in an early stage for a reversal”. Another scientist not involved in this study also agrees: “My own theoretical estimate, based on geological estimates of past behavior, is that the chance of a magnetic reversal in the next 20,000 years is only about 2%” adds Professor Bruce Buffett.
Climate change and magnetic fields
According to the claim, extreme weather events such as the sun staying in the same spot causing “heating like we’ve never experienced” or “1000 miles per hour (ca. 1,609 kilometers per hour)” winds would happen as a result of magnetic poles’ reversal. In reality, the only significant risk known to impact society is that a reversal temporarily weakens the magnetic shield protecting us from bursts of radiations from the sun, called solar flares. Solar flares can disrupt satellite communications, but they are not the kind of cataclysmic events described by Corsetti. “There is no evidence that magnetic reversals have any impact on climate” emphasizes UC Berkeley professor Bruce Buffett. “We might be more impacted by solar flares, but there is no evidence that this alters climate. As far as I know, there is no proposed mechanism that would allow this to happen.” Scientists have examined this question in numerous studies, but the results haven’t demonstrated a causal link between magnetic poles reversals and climate. As reminded by NASA scientist Alan Buis on the agency’s website, “electromagnetic currents exist within Earth’s upper atmosphere. […] In the long run, the energy that governs Earth’s upper atmosphere is about 100,000 times less than the amount of energy driving the climate system at Earth’s surface. There is simply not enough energy aloft to have an influence on climate down where we live.”
The unsupported “Adam and Eve” theory, along with Corsetti’s speculations on an imminent reversal, leads Joe Rogan to claim that climate change is of lesser importance. Rogan claimed climate change is “this narrative that just gets repeated over and over and over and this fear mongering and everyone gets freaked out”. He then compared it to the “Adam and Eve” theory, “If the f***ing magnetic poles might shift […] we might have bigger problems.” As explained above, both claims of impact on climate and of a potential reversal occurring soon are unsupported and go against available evidence. When comparing risks, Rogan doesn’t appear to be aware of scientists’ very high confidence in the fact that reaching a global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels in the near-term “would cause unavoidable increases in multiple climate hazards and present multiple risks to ecosystems and humans”, as noted by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). There are 127 key risks associated with climate change identified by the IPCC, and their impacts in the mid and long term “are up to multiple times higher than currently observed”. So a magnetic poles reversal is far from being a more important risk than climate change, contrary to Rogan’s belief.
Bruce Buffett, Professor, University of California, Berkeley:
A magnetic reversal causes a change in electric currents within the liquid metal core. These currents can alter the forces inside the liquid metal core, but this cannot stop the rotation of the Earth. As an analogy, you can’t literally pull yourself up by your bootstraps.
There is no evidence that magnetic reversals have any impact on climate. The overall strength of the magnetic field decreases during a reversal. This allows charged particles from the Sun (known as solar wind) to penetrate deeper into the atmosphere. We might be more impacted by solar flares, but there is no evidence that this alters climate. As far as I know, there is no proposed mechanism that would allow this to happen.
Reversals occur at irregular intervals in the geological past, based on the magnetization of igneous rocks. If we average over the past few million years, the typical recurrence interval is about 250,000 to 300,000 years. The last one was 780,000 years ago, so you might argue we are overdue. In fact, there have been recent suggestions that we are entering the next geomagnetic reversal. My own theoretical estimate, based on geological estimates of past behavior, is that the chance of a magnetic reversal in the next 20,000 years is only about 2%. A reversal lasting only 7 days would be difficult to detect in the geological record, but this is not realistic. A more typical estimate for the duration of a reversal is in excess of 10,000 years (depending a little on how you define a reversal; is it the time to flip the orientation of the magnetic field or the time required to flip the orientation and bring the amplitude back up to the average value?). Flipping the magnetic field orientation to the reversed state and back to the original state in 7 days would require absurdly large fluid velocities in the liquid metal core.
Let’s suppose that the Earth stopped rotating. The centrifugal acceleration associated with rotation would disappear. This acceleration is presently responsible for the equatorial bulge of the solid part of the planet, as well as the oceans. The solid part of the Earth would have an abrupt elastic response of several kilometers when rotation stopped. Similarly, the oceans would respond on timescales of a few days. I would expect to see kilometers of sea level change as the solid earth and ocean adjust by different amounts over short times. It would be hard to miss this change.
-  Singer et al. (2019). Synchronizing volcanic, sedimentary, and ice core records of Earth’s last magnetic polarity reversal. Science Advances.
-  Brown et al. (2018). Earth’s magnetic field is probably not reversing. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
-  Buffet et al. (2018). A Probabilistic Assessment of the Next Geomagnetic Reversal. Geophysical Research Letters.