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Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union

Are magnetic storms hazardous to your health?



In recent years, solid scientific evidence has been obtained indicating that certain species of migratory birds, fish and insects can sense the Earth's magnetic field and use this information for orientation and navigation [e.g., Beason and Nichols, 1984; Kirschvink, 1994]. The primary field-sensing units (magnetosomes) in brain cells may be quite sensitive: some bees have been found to respond to magnetic field intensity changes of only a few tens of nanotesla.

Studies claiming that natural, solar variability-driven time variations, of the Earth's magnetic field can affect living organisms are on less solid ground. This subject is now loosely called biogeomagnetics; it does not include the politically sensitive topic of power-line and domestic ELF (extreme low frequency) field effects. Scores of biomedical scientists and clinicians throughout the world are involved in this research and have become steadfast users of solar-terrestrial data. In recent years, the Scientific Committee on Solar-Terrestrial Physics (SCOSTEP) of the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU) has been asked repeatedly to include biogeomagnetics among its international projects, but has refused. A commissioned report on this topic to SCOSTEP is available on request from Juan Roederer.

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