Improving Paleointensity: A key to understanding the past and future of Earth’s magnetic field

  • Supervisors: Dr Greig Paterson, University of Liverpool
    Prof Andy Biggin, University of Liverpool
    Prof Richard Holme, University of Liverpool
    Dr Mimi Hill, University of Liverpool
  • External Supervisors:

  • Contact:

    Dr Greig Paterson, University of Liverpool,

  • CASE Partner:

Application deadline: 10 January 2020


The strength of our protective magnetic field is in a state of rapid decline, but how long this will persist, how rapid it will become, and what it will mean for modern life remains unknown. Our modern society depends heavily on electronic systems that can be vulnerable to geomagnetic storms caused by solar activity. If our protective barrier continues to decay, these technologies will become more susceptible to the impact of these electromagnetic storms.

Advancing our knowledge of the past evolution of the deep Earth and the physics behind extreme geomagnetic features are frontiers in paleomagnetic research that are necessary to understand and predict the future of Earth’s magnetic field. However, our ability to do this is held back by the uncertainty in records of the ancient magnetic field strength (paleointensity).

This project will bridge the gap between specimen-level paleointensity data and global geomagnetic field reconstructions by propagating detailed specimen information through to the global scale models of field variability over the last few thousand years. These models can then be used to make testable predictions of how the field changes over decadal timescales, which can be used to forecast future field’s changes and implications for modern satellite, communications and power infrastructure.

Project Summary:

The successful candidate will join the Geomagnetism research group (, comprising ten other PhD students and post-docs. The group is supported by a multimillion pound laboratory that is one of the best in the world for paleomagnetic intensity measurement and analysis.

The candidate will undertake a series of lab-based experiments to characterize the magnetic behavior of commonly used materials. A broad range of data and materials will be analyzed, which will involve visiting collaborators in Israel (and other locations) to collect and analyze specimens. These analyses will be used to inform large-scale paleointensity simulations that will be used as “big-data” approach to identify reliable results (Paterson et al. 2012, 2017).

By developing new metrics of reliability a wide range of outstanding questions regarding the magnetic field can be addressed, including answer how fast Earth’s magnetic field can change and how our protective barrier might change in the foreseeable future. This project has the potential to allow the candidate flexibility in the focus of the final application to feed their curiosity.

The candidate will be fully trained in the experimental and computational aspects of the project. They will also have the opportunity to collaborate with paleomagnetists who utilize geological materials as well as archeologists who extract magnetic signals form fired archeological artefacts, giving them a broad experience of Earth science magnetism.

This project would suit a geophysics graduate who is keen to do lab work and computational analyses applied to both experimental simulation and global field modelling. Full training will be given.


Paterson, G. A., A. J. Biggin, Y. Yamamoto, and Y. Pan (2012), Towards the robust selection of Thellier-type paleointensity data: The influence of experimental noise, Geochem. Geophys. Geosyst., 13, Q05Z43, doi: 10.1029/2012GC004046 

Paterson, G.A., Muxworthy, A.R., Yamamoto, Y., Pan, Y., (2017), Bulk magnetic domain stability controls paleointensity fidelity. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1714047114

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