The three SWARM satellites are part of ESA's 'Living Planet Programme' and will spend the next five years measuring the Earth's magnetic field from every possible angle. (Photo: ESA/AOES Medialab)

Scientists construct climate model for the core of the Earth

For the last year, three satellites have been collecting data about the Earth's magnetism. According to the scientists the enormous quantities of data are extremely detailed and can help them build models to better understand the Earth's magnetic field.

If you look straight up into the sky you won't see them, but they're there somewhere: three satellites orbiting the Earth.

New measurements from the large-scale SWARM mission have been sent back to Earth and are now being analysed by scientists from DTU SPACE. The satellites, armed to the teeth with measuring equipment, are on a mission to collect data about the Earth's magnetic field.

The purpose of SWARM mission, an idea originally drawn up by DTU SPACE, is to measure the magnetism in, on, and around the Earth. The scientists will be investigating why the Earth's magnetic field behaves the way it does.

"Our magnetic field is formed 3.000 km down in the planet’s core where molten iron floats around at a speed of 20-30 km a year. What we're going to look at now, using the SWARM satellites, is how the low speed of the fluid core constantly changes and how it will develop in the future. You might say we’re creating a climate model of the centre of the earth," says Professor Nils Olsen, who studies geomagnetism at the National Space Institute at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU).

One thing the climate model can be used for is to take a closer look at the Earth's diminishing magnetic field which is getting weaker and weaker.

Olsen believes this might indicate that a significant change in our magnetic field is on the way.

Magnetism must be exploited optimally and precisely

Scientists at the Niels Bohr Institute at University of Copenhagen are also very excited about the results that will come out of the analysis of the SWARM data.

"It's fantastic that this has finally paid off. Denmark is really making waves in this field. Until now we’ve not really had much knowledge about how quickly the magnetic fields were changing," says Morten Bo Madsen, an assistant professor in astrophysics and planet research from the Niels Bohr Institute.

Specifically, the measurements from the SWARM satellites are being used to calculate new models for how we can exploit the planet's magnetism optimally and much more precisely.

The models will be updated every five years, and according to Olsen, they have just entered a new five-year period from 2015 to 2020.

DTU Space: The next model will be finished this summer

Olsen has just calculated a new model of the Earth's magnetic field with the help of data from the SWARM satellites. However, the job of sifting through all the SWARM data isn't over yet.

"We've just published the first model of the Earth's magnetic field but since we'll continuously be improving on the model, we've already started on the next. We expect it to be finished sometime during the summer," says Olsen.

Madsen points out that with the SWARM project in full swing, it is vital to keep the project going by not just focusing on what the satellites can contribute with in the way of data.

"It's really important that we start looking into future funding for this project. We have an important job ahead of us," says Madsen.


Read the original story in Danish on

Translated by: Hugh Matthews

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