NASA’s Earth scientists explore South Atlantic Anomaly

Earth’s magnetic field acts like a protective shield around the planet, repelling and trapping charged particles from the Sun.

But over South America and the southern Atlantic Ocean, an unusually weak spot in the field – called the South Atlantic Anomaly, or SAA – allows these particles to dip closer to the surface than normal.

Currently, the SAA creates no visible impacts on daily life on the surface. However, recent observations and forecasts show that the region is expanding westward and continuing to weaken in intensity. It is also splitting – recent data shows the anomaly’s valley, or region of minimum field strength, has split into two lobes, creating additional challenges for satellite missions.

The South Atlantic Anomaly is also of interest to NASA’s Earth scientists who monitor the changes in magnetic strength there, both for how such changes affect Earth's atmosphere and as an indicator of what's happening to Earth's magnetic fields, deep inside the globe.

"The observed SAA can be also interpreted as a consequence of weakening dominance of the dipole field in the region,” said Weijia Kuang, a geophysicist and mathematician in Goddard’s Geodesy and Geophysics Laboratory. “More specifically, a localized field with reversed polarity grows strongly in the SAA region, thus making the field intensity very weak, weaker than that of the surrounding regions.”

 Related articles: 

Study reveals South Atlantic magnetic anomaly is a recurring feature

Research helps explain ongoing changes in geomagnetic field

The anomaly in the Earth’s magnetic field which has geophysicists abuzz

Featured image: NASA/Goddard


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