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Deciphering records of geomagnetic reversals

Abstract : Polarity reversals of the geomagnetic field are a major feature of the Earth's dynamo. Questions remain regarding the dynamical processes that give rise to reversals and the properties of the geomagnetic field during a polarity transition. A large number of paleomagnetic reversal records have been acquired during the past 50 years in order to better constrain the structure and geometry of the transitional field. In addition, over the past two decades, numerical dynamo simulations have also provided insights into the reversal mechanism. Yet despite the large paleomagnetic database, controversial interpretations of records of the transitional field persist; they result from two characteristics inherent to all reversals, both of which are detrimental to an ambiguous analysis. On the one hand, the reversal process is rapid and requires adequate temporal resolution. On the other hand, weak field intensities during a reversal can affect the fidelity of magnetic recording in sedimentary records. This paper is aimed at reviewing critically the main reversal features derived from paleomagnetic records and at analyzing some of these features in light of numerical simulations. We discuss in detail the fidelity of the signal extracted from paleomagnetic records and pay special attention to their resolution with respect to the timing and mechanisms involved in the magnetization process. Records from marine sediments dominate the database. They give rise to transitional field models that often lead to overinterpret the data. Consequently, we attempt to separate robust results (and their subsequent interpretations) from those that do not stand on a strong observational footing. Finally, we discuss new avenues that should favor progress to better characterize and understand transitional field behavior.
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Jean-Pierre Valet, Alexandre Fournier. Deciphering records of geomagnetic reversals. Reviews of Geophysics, American Geophysical Union, 2016, ⟨10.1002/2015RG000506⟩. ⟨insu-02400962⟩

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