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Earth’s magnetic field, a familiar directional indicator over long distances, is routinely probed in applications ranging from geology to archaeology.
The work was conducted in the NMR laboratory of Alexander Pines, one of the world’s foremost NMR authorities, as part of a long-standing collaboration with physicist Dmitry Budker at the University of California, Berkeley, along with colleagues at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The exquisite sensitivity of NMR for detecting chemical composition, and the spatial resolution which it can provide in medical applications, requires large and precise superconducting magnets. But chemical characterization of objects that cannot be placed inside a magnet requires a different approach. Instead of a superconducting magnet, low-field NMR measurements may rely on Earth’s magnetic field, given a sufficiently sensitive magnetometer. Paul Ganssle is the corresponding author of a paper in Angewandte Chemie describing ultra-low-field NMR using an optical magnetometer.
Earth’s magnetic field is indeed very weak, but optical magnetometers can serve as detectors for ultra-low-field NMR measurements in the ambient field alone without any permanent magnets.
In high-field NMR, the chemical properties of a sample are determined from their resonance spectrum, but this is not possible without either extremely high fields or extremely long-lived coherent signals (neither of which are possible with permanent magnets).
A key difference between this and conventional experiments is that the relaxation and diffusion properties are resolved through optically-detected NMR, which operates sensitively even in low magnetic fields. The design was tested in the lab by measuring relaxation coefficients first for various hydrocarbons and water by themselves, then for a heterogeneous mixture, as well as in two-dimensional correlation experiments, using a magnetometer and an applied magnetic field representative of Earth’s. This technology could help the oil industry to characterize fluids in rocks, because water relaxes at a different rate from oil. The next step involves understanding the depth in a geological formation that could be imaged with this technology.
Eventually, probes could be used to characterize entire borehole environments in this way, while current devices can only image inches deep. Other authors on the Angewandte Chemie paper include Hyun Doug Shin, Micah Ledbetter, Dmitry Budker, Svenja Knappe, John Kitching, and Alexander Pines. For more information about the research in Alex Pines’ Nuclear Magnetic Resonance group, go here. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory addresses the world’s most urgent scientific challenges by advancing sustainable energy, protecting human health, creating new materials, and revealing the origin and fate of the universe. DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. Shop Windows to the UniverseReady, Set, SCIENCE!, by the National Research Council, focuses on K-8 science classsrooms.
Speaking of flipping, did you know that Earth's North Magnetic Pole is actually a south pole? Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!Learn about Earth and space science, and have fun while doing it! ESA uses cookies to track visits to our website only, no personal information is collected. Our planet's magnetic field is in a constant state of change, say researchers who are beginning to understand how it behaves and why.
The pole kept going during the 20th century, north at an average speed of 10 km per year, lately accelerating "to 40 km per year," says Newitt.
Earth's magnetic field is changing in other ways, too: Compass needles in Africa, for instance, are drifting about 1 degree per decade. Magnetic stripes around mid-ocean ridges reveal the history of Earth's magnetic field for millions of years.
Earth's magnetic field comes from this ocean of iron, which is an electrically conducting fluid in constant motion. Using the equations of magnetohydrodynamics, a branch of physics dealing with conducting fluids and magnetic fields, Glatzmaier and colleague Paul Roberts have created a supercomputer model of Earth's interior. What they see mimics the real Earth: The magnetic field waxes and wanes, poles drift and, occasionally, flip.

The North Magnetic Pole -- (Geological Survey of Canada) find out where the north magnetic pole is now, and much more. Core Concerns -- (Science News) The hidden reaches of Earth are starting to reveal some of their secrets.
Earth's North Magnetic Pole -- (APOD) The North Magnetic Pole is currently located in northern Canada.
Now it has provided the basis for a technique which might, one day, be used to characterize the chemical composition of fluid mixtures in their native environments. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) conducted a proof-of-concept NMR experiment in which a mixture of hydrocarbons and water was analyzed using a high-sensitivity magnetometer and a magnetic field comparable to that of the Earth. The work will be featured on the cover of Angewandte Chemie and is published in a paper titled “Ultra-Low-Field NMR Relaxation and Diffusion Measurements Using an Optical Magnetometer.” The corresponding author is Paul Ganssle,  who was a PhD student in Pines’ lab at the time of the work. In ex situ NMR measurements, the geometry of a typical high-field experiment is reversed such that the detector probes the sample surface, and the magnetic field is projected into the object. This means that ex-situ measurements lose chemical sensitivity due to field strength alone. In contrast, relaxation and diffusion measurements in low-field NMR are more than sufficient to determine bulk materials properties. Relaxation refers to the rate at which polarized spin returns to equilibrium, based on chemical and physical characteristics of the system.
There were attempts to perform oil well logging starting in the 1950s using the Earth’s ambient field, but insufficient detection sensitivity led to the introduction of magnets, which are now ubiquitous in logging tools. Other applications include measuring the content of water and oil flowing in a pipeline by measuring chemical composition with time, and inspecting the quality of foods and any kind of polymer curing process such as cement curing and drying.
The combination of terrestrial magnetism and versatile sensing technology again offers an elegant solution. The current publication presents some of the work for which Berkeley Lab won an R&D 100 award earlierthis year on optically-detected oil well logging by MRI. Founded in 1931, Berkeley Lab’s scientific expertise has been recognized with 13 Nobel prizes. If you imagine a gigantic bar magnet inside of Earth, you'll have a pretty good idea what Earth's magnetic field is shaped like. If we pretend that Earth's magnetic field is made by a giant bar magnet, that bar magnet would make an angle with Earth's spin axis.
In 2005, the North Magnetic Pole (NMP) was about 810 km (503 miles) from the Geographic North Pole.
That's because the charged particles (mostly electrons and protons) that cause the aurora follow along magnetic field lines towards the magnetic poles.
The Website was developed in part with the support of UCAR and NCAR, where it resided from 2000 - 2010.
The axis of the magnetic field is tilted with respect to the Earth's rotation axis by 11.5A°. As remarkable as these changes sound, "they're mild compared to what Earth's magnetic field has done in the past," says University of California professor Gary Glatzmaier.
Sitting atop the hot inner core, the liquid outer core seethes and roils like water in a pan on a hot stove.
Their software heats the inner core, stirs the metallic ocean above it, then calculates the resulting magnetic field.
Reversals take a few thousand years to complete, and during that time--contrary to popular belief--the magnetic field does not vanish. On the left is a normal dipolar magnetic field, typical of the long years between polarity reversals. Further, the sample of interest must be placed inside the magnet, such that the entire sample is exposed to a homogeneous magnetic field. A main challenge with this situation is generating a homogeneous magnetic field over a sufficiently large sample area: it is not feasible to generate field strengths necessary to make conventional high-resolution NMR measurements.

Of course, Earth DOESN'T have a giant bar magnet inside it; instead, our planet's magnetic field is made by swirling motions of molten iron in Earth's outer core. Our planet also has two magnetic poles: the North Magnetic Pole and the South Magnetic Pole. Remember, swirling motions of molten metal in Earth's outer core make our planet's magnetic field.
This doesn't happen very often; usually at least a few hundred thousand years pass between these flips. When compasses were first invented, people noticed that one end of the compass pointed towards the North.
When the particles run into air in Earth's atmosphere, the air glows in pretty colors - making the beautiful aurora! When this was mentioned by researchers at a recent meeting of the American Geophysical Union, many newspapers carried the story. The outer core also has "hurricanes"--whirlpools powered by the Coriolis forces of Earth's rotation. On the right is the sort of complicated magnetic field Earth has during the upheaval of a reversal. Instead of shivering in Resolute Bay, he could enjoy the warm South Pacific, hopping from island to island, hunting for magnetic poles while auroras danced overhead. The South Magnetic Pole (SMP) was about 2,826 km (1,756 miles) from the Geographic South Pole.
They called the end of the compass needle that pointed North the "north end" of the needle (makes sense!). They come at irregular intervals averaging about 300,000 years; the last one was 780,000 years ago.
The dipole moment, a measure of the intensity of the magnetic field, is now 8 x 1022 amps x m2. These complex motions generate our planet's magnetism through a process called the dynamo effect.
Magnetic lines of force near Earth's surface become twisted and tangled, and magnetic poles pop up in unaccustomed places. If you were standing at one of the magnetic poles, the magnetic field lines would be straight up and down.
When you are far away from a pole a compass is very helpful if you want to find your way around. If you were holding a compass and turned it sideways, its needle would aim straight up and down! In the first part of the 20th century, the poles usually moved about 9 km (5.6 miles) per year.
They learned that like ends (a north and a north OR a south and a south) push away from each other. The compass needle points pretty much due North (or South if you live in the Southern Hemisphere!).
But it's still a planetary magnetic field, and it still protects us from space radiation and solar storms. Earth's magnetic field is pretty much (but not exactly) like the magnetic field around a bar magnet. Think how hard it must have been for early explorers to find their way around in the Arctic and Antarctic without being able to use a compass!

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