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Letters to Nature
Nature 315, 315 - 317 (23 May 1985); doi:10.1038/315315a0

Evidence for an increase in cosmogenic 10Be during a geomagnetic reversal

G. M. Raisbeck, F. Yiou, D. Bourles & D. V. Kent

Laboratoire René Bernas, 91406 Orsay, France
Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory, Palisades, New York 10964, USA

Reversals in the geomagnetic field, which occur every few hundred thousand years, represent a dramatic change in the Earth's environment. Although there is no satisfactory theory for such reversals, it is generally accepted that the dipole field intensity decreases to <20% of its ‘normal’ value for a few thousand years during the change in direction1. Because the galactic and solar cosmic rays which impinge on the Earth's atmosphere are charged, a significant fraction (about half) of them are deflected by the geomagnetic field2. At the time of a reversal, this magnetic shielding is greatly reduced, and it has been suggested that the increased flux of high-energy particles could have effects on evolutionary3 or climatic4 processes. For example, the statistically significant coincidence in levels of some marine faunal extinctions and reversal boundaries in ocean sediments5 could be caused, directly or indirectly, by the decreased geomagnetic intensity during the reversal. We report here evidence in marine sediments for an increase in cosmogenic 10Be production in the Earth's atmosphere during the Brunhes–Matuyama reversal 730,000 yr ago. In addition to confirming an increase in cosmogenic isotope production, the results provide information on the magnitude and duration of the geomagnetic intensity decrease during such an event, and the depth at which rmanent magnetism is acquired in marine sediments.

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