Annual Rock Salt Lecture discusses geomagnetism

On Wednesday April 4, research geophysicist Jeffrey Love of the United States Geological Survey presented a lecture titled “Our Magnetic Planet” as a part of Geneseo’s ninth annual American Rock Salt Lecture.

The annual lecture came from a partnership between the American Rock Salt Company LLC and Geneseo’s geology department.

Love was hired at the USGS in an administrative capacity 10 years ago as a group leader for geomagnetic research. He is currently a research adviser for the same department, which, according to Love, is more in line with his interests.

Love’s lecture gave historical background for the research done in the field of geomagnetism, which is applicable to both majors and non-majors in the geology field. Geomagnetism is the study of the Earth’s magnetic field that allows geologists to make inferences about the Earth’s core.

Love opened the lecture with an overview of the work of William Gilbert, the first scientist to show that Earth’s field is magnetic. Gilbert outlined his experiments in his book De Magnete in 1600.

“His work is an interesting example in the early practices in the philosophy of science and conducting experiments and making inferences,” said Love.

Love also discussed Edmond Halley, the astronomer who mapped the orbit of Halley’s Comet. Halley constructed maps of Earth’s magnetic field and discovered that a compass doesn’t point north almost everywhere.

Love touched on the solar-terrestrial interaction and its effect on the Earth’s magnetic field. He said that when the magnetic fields of the sun and Earth abruptly re-align, strong currents release large amounts of energy that compress the Earth’s magnetic field. This compression causes magnetic storms on Earth, the aurora borealis and the aurora australis.

According to Love, magnetic storms have hazardous effects on modern civilization. He said that these storms induce uncontrolled currents in the Earth’s crust, which cause problems for power grids. These currents also cause the ionosphere to heat, which Love said is problematic for satellites.

The last magnetic storm to cause problems on such a grand scale was in March of 1989 when Quebec experienced widespread blackouts.

After the lecture, Love stayed to answer questions.

“I attended the lecture for extra credit and was surprised how much I enjoyed it,” said freshman Carissa Gagliardi. “I thought it was interesting and concise.”

Love became a geophysicist during his last years as a physics major at the University of California, Berkeley after taking a class on the physics of magnetism. He continued research during his graduate studies at Harvard University. Love said his grandfather, also a scientist, inspired him to study science himself.

“I chose to pursue my childhood curiosity, and I’m happy I did,” he said.