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Solar and Geomagnetic Activity and their Effect on Human Physiology

by James Odell, OMD, ND, L.Ac.

Solar and Geomagnetic Activity (S-GMA) is a disruption of the geomagnetic field induced by changes in electrical currents in the magnetosphere and ionosphere. It is the main cause of such changes in the flow of solar flares, coronal mass ejections, and high-speed wind streams that interact with the earth’s geomagnetic field and add energy to the magnetosphere-ionosphere current system. Geomagnetic storms, substorms, and pulsations are the most noteworthy manifestations of geomagnetic activity. Numerous studies have now identified significant physical, biological, and health effects associated with changes in S-GMA. Significant correlations between hospital admissions and health registries and S-GMA have been observed for a long time. Now, there is a large body of research that correclates S-GMA with biological effects and human health effects.

The ionosphere is a layer of plasma, a term that describes highly ionized gases threaded by magnetic fields, which surround the Earth. The charged particles in the plasma can spiral around the magnetic field lines and travel along with it, creating auroras as high-energy particles flow along the field lines to the Earth’s magnetic poles. This “magnetohydrodynamic process” was described by Nobel Prize Laureate Hannes Olof Gösta Alfvén to explain how low-frequency waves that propagate along magnetic field lines are created.1

Aurora Borealis - Stockholm, Sweden: Photo by Anders Jildén (@AndersJilden)

Standing waves in the magnetosphere involve several magnetic field lines, with lengths several times the Earth’s radius, which is excited and oscillates at their resonant frequency, similar to a plucked guitar string. Longer field lines have a lower resonant frequency, whereas shorter field lines resonate at a higher frequency. Field lines with more or heavier particles spiraling around them tend to have lower frequencies. Changes in solar wind velocity or the polarity and orientation of the interplanetary magnetic field may have dramatic effects on the waves, as measured on the Earth’s surface.2

Many studies have been published describing a broad range of physiological, psychological, and behavioral changes associated with changes or disturbances in geomagnetic activity and solar activity. Studies have shown that increased amplitudes of field line resonances can particularly affect the cardiovascular system, most likely because their frequencies are in the same range as the primary rhythms found in the cardiovascular and autonomic nervous systems.

In some countries, magnetic field disturbances are included in public weather forecast reports. (Space weather news may be accessed at On a larger societal scale, increased rates of violence, crime, social unrest, revolutions, and frequency of terrorist attacks have been linked to the solar cycle and the resulting disturbances in the geomagnetic field.3, 4, 5

Increased solar activity has not only been associated with social unrest, it is also associated with the periods of the greatest human flourishing with clear spurts of innovation and creativity in architecture, arts, sciences, and positive social change, as well as with variable human performance in the financial markets.6, 7, 8

Over the last few years, various researches have reached the conclusion that cosmic ray variations and geomagnetic disturbances impact human physiology. These studies build on observations made by the famed astronomer Alexander Chizhevsky during World War I.9 Chizhevsky observed that social conflict and wars intensify during peak solar flare periods and that major human events and behaviors closely follow the cycle of the sun.10 This eventually led to the hypothesis that some unknown solar forces affect human health and behavior, providing a provocative link between events occurring in our solar system and life on Earth.

Geomagnetic storms, i.e. extreme fluctuations of the globally recorded geomagnetic field, are known to have the greatest biological influence of all forms of geomagnetic activity. During a geomagnetic storm, the F2 layer of the ionosphere becomes unstable, fragments, and may even vanish. Auroras become visible in the northern and southern pole regions of the planet. The F2 layer of the ionosphere exists from approximately 220 to 800 km (140 to 500 miles) above the surface of the Earth. F2 is the principal reflecting layer for telecommunications during both day and night. Since the ionosphere is heated and distorted during a geomagnetic storm (commonly referred to as a solar storm) long-range radio communication that relies on sub-ionosphere reflection can be difficult or impossible, and global-positioning system (GPS) communications can be compromised. Not only can solar storms cause a temporary disturbance of the Earth's magnetosphere impacting telecommunications, but human and animal bioregulatory systems may also be adversely affected.

The layers above the Earth are the troposphere, the stratosphere, and the ionosphere. The ionosphere ranges approximately between 90 to 250 km above the Earth.

The sun is a magnetic variable star that fluctuates on times scales ranging from a fraction of a second to billions of years. Credits: NASA

The Sun unleashed a powerful flare on 4 November 2003. The Extreme ultraviolet Imager in the 195A emission line aboard the SOHO spacecraft captured the event.Credits: ESA&NASA/SOHO

A solar flare is an intense burst of radiation coming from the release of magnetic energy associated with sunspots. Flares are our solar system’s largest explosive events. They are seen as bright areas on the sun, and they can last from minutes to hours. We typically see a solar flare by the photons (or light) it releases, at most every wavelength of the spectrum. The primary ways we monitor flares are in x-rays and optical light. Flares are also sites where particles (electrons, protons, and heavier particles) are accelerated.

Solar activity associated with space weather can be divided into four main components: solar flares, coronal mass ejections, high-speed solar wind, and solar energetic particles.

  • Solar flares impact Earth only when they occur on the side of the sun facing Earth. Because flares are made of photons, they travel out directly from the flare site, so if we can see the flare, we can be impacted by it.

  • Coronal mass ejections, also called CMEs, are large clouds of plasma and magnetic fields that erupt from the sun. These clouds can erupt in any direction and then continue in that direction, plowing right through the solar wind. Only when the cloud is aimed at Earth will the CME hit Earth and therefore cause impacts.

  • High-speed solar wind streams come from areas on the sun known as coronal holes. These holes can form anywhere on the sun and usually, only when they are closer to the solar equator, so the winds they produce impact Earth.

  • Solar energetic particles are high-energy charged particles, primarily thought to be released by shocks formed at the front of coronal mass ejections and solar flares. When a CME cloud plows through the solar wind, high velocity solar energetic particles can be produced and because they are charged, they must follow the magnetic field lines that pervade the space between the Sun and the Earth. Therefore, only the charged particles that follow magnetic field lines that intersect the Earth will result in impacts.

Geomagnetic Storm

The Earth's magnetosphere is part of a dynamic, interconnected system that reacts to solar, planetary, and interstellar conditions. It is generated by the convective motion of charged, molten iron deep below the surface in Earth's outer core. Constant solar-wind bombardment compresses the sun-facing side of our magnetic field. The sun-facing side, or dayside, spans from six to 10 times the radius of the Earth. The side of the magnetosphere that faces away from the sun - the nightside - is stretched out into an immense magnetotail that fluctuates in length and can measure hundreds of Earth radii well beyond the 60 Earth radii of the Moon. When a coronal mass ejection or high-speed stream lands on Earth it buffets the magnetosphere. If the incoming solar magnetic field is directed southward it interacts strongly with the oppositely oriented magnetic field of the Earth. The Earth's magnetic field is then peeled open like an onion that allows energetic solar wind particles to migrate down the field lines to reach the atmosphere over the poles. OnEarth's surface, a magnetic storm is seen as a rapid drop in the Earth's magnetic field strength. These storms have a major effect on the geomagnetic field line resonances which interact with many of the Earth’s biological regulatory organisms (humans and animals).

Solar Wind Colliding with Earth’s Magnetic Field

The Schumann Resonances and Solar Radiation

The Schumann resonances (or frequencies) are quasi-standing electromagnetic waves that exist in the cavity (or space) between the surface of the Earth and the ionosphere. In 1952, German physicist Professor Winfried Otto Schumann of the Technical University of Munich began attempting to answer whether the Earth itself has a frequency – a “pulse”. His assumption about the existence of this frequency came from his understanding that when a sphere exists inside another sphere, electrical tension is created. Since the negatively charged Earth exists inside the positively charged ionosphere, there must be tension between the two, giving the Earth a specific frequency. Through a series of calculations, he was able to deduce a frequency he believed was the pulse of the Earth-ionosphere space. Two years later, in 1954, Schumann and Herbert König reported reliable and predictable frequencies in the atmosphere that existed in the cavity (or space) between the surface of the Earth and the ionosphere. Research has shown that several frequencies occur between 6 and 50 Hz (cycles per second), the fundamental frequency they found to be 7.83 Hz.11 It is well established that the Schumann frequencies have directly affected human physiology over thousands of years. Though 7.83 is considered the fundamental Schumann resonance, other frequencies occur specifically 7.8, 14, 20, 26, 33, 39 and 45 Hertz, with a daily variation of about +/- 0.5 Hertz (Hz) These frequencies function as a background frequency influencing and resonating with the biological circuitry of much of the life on Earth. These frequencies directly overlap those of the human brain, autonomic nervous system, and cardiovascular system.12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17

It has also been established that the amplitude of the Schumann Resonance's modes is affected by events due to solar activity.18 Thus, it is proposed that solar and geomagnetic activity may alter Schumann frequencies, and may be one mechanism to explain its effect on human physiology. Human regulatory systems are designed to adapt to daily and seasonal climatic and geomagnetic variations. However, sharp changes in solar and geomagnetic activity, particularly geomagnetic storms, can stress these regulatory systems This then results in alterations in melatonin/serotonin balance, blood pressure, immune system, reproductive, cardiac, and neurological processes.

The Schumann resonance signal is found to be extremely highly correlated with S-GMA indices of sunspot number and the Kp index. The Kp-index describes the disturbance of the Earth's magnetic field caused by the solar wind. The faster the solar wind blows, the greater the turbulence. The index ranges from 0, for low activity, to 9, which means that an intense geomagnetic storm is underway. The physical mechanism is the ionospheric D-region ion/electron density that varies with S-GMA and forms the upper boundary of the resonant cavity in which the Schumann Resonance signal is formed. This provides strong support for identifying the Schumann Resonance signals as the S-GMA biophysical mechanism and supports the classification of S-GMA as a natural bioregulatory hazard.