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The core is heated from below and cooled from above, so the iron within is thought to undergo vigorous turbulent motion, similar to a strongly heated pan of water.
By taking samples from different layers of the slag heap – with slightly different ages and magnetisation – they could also see how the field strength changed with time.
Coupled with numerical simulations that model the dynamics of Earth’s core, it may soon be possible to make the first predictions of how often spikes occur and the most likely locations where they could have occurred in the past (and may occur in the future).
It could turn out that they are more common than we think.
Of particular importance are geomagnetic storms (caused by the solar wind), which are known to cause power outages and disruption to satellite and communications systems.
The economic implications of severe storms are estimated to run into billions of pounds and their importance is now reflected in the national risk register.The key question is whether the field gets a little bit weaker over a large region or becomes very weak in just a small region.