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Paleomagnetism and rock-magnetism by Micro-Magnetic Tomography

Project description

Pioneering tomography provides clearer snapshots of the Earth's changing magnetism

The Earth's magnetic field forms a protective bubble that shields the Earth from radiation streaming from the Sun. Over the years, changes in the Earth's magnetic field have been recorded by iron-rich minerals affected by magnetic influences. When the minerals become trapped in place, they are like snapshots in time of the Earth's changing magnetic field. However, the 'snapshots' can be out of focus when small amounts of minerals that are not good recorders are present. Using pioneering non-destructive micro-magnetic tomography, MIMATOM plans to zoom in on individual minerals rather than the bulk, thus providing a clearer picture of magnetic field changes over time. Insight will enable us to more accurately predict the future of our magnetic bubble.


Our knowledge on the past behavior of the Earth’s magnetic field critically depends on our ability to obtain and interpret magnetic signals from geological materials such as lavas. These materials contain mixtures of different magnetic minerals, some of which are good recorders of the Earth’s magnetic field, others are not. Even the presence of a small amount of minerals with adverse magnetic properties obscures the signal of good recorders, resulting in >80% of measurements of the past Earth’s magnetic field strength being flawed. Understanding the Earth’s magnetic field is pivotal for predicting the future of its shielding capacity against the Sun’s electromagnetically charged particles, which globally weakened by >20% over the last millennium.

With MIMATOM, I aim to establish an entirely new way to obtain paleomagnetic and rock-magnetic information from geological materials. I will go beyond measuring magnetizations of bulk samples by determining the magnetic moments of individual minerals embedded in these samples in a non-destructive way. Starting from my recent proof-of-concept of Micro-Magnetic Tomography (MMT), I will develop a radically new technique to assess magnetizations of individual minerals inside geological materials. This will enable understanding which minerals are reliable recorders of the Earth’s magnetic field by characterizing their magnetic behavior as function of their grain size, shape, and chemistry. Then I will use MMT to obtain paleomagnetic information from selections of minerals that I identified as good recorders and unlock information on the past state of the Earth’s magnetic field from even the most challenging and magnetically complex geological materials, such as lavas.

My revolutionary new technique will open archives of the past behavior of the Earth’s magnetic field that currently are inaccessible. Moreover, it will pave the way for radically new venues in paleomagnetic and rock-magnetic research, at mineral level.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 785 000,00
3584 CS Utrecht

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West-Nederland Utrecht Utrecht
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 1 785 000,00

Beneficiaries (1)