Magnetic navigation

Using the earth’s magnetic field for navigation


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Everyone (well, maybe not all cat lovers) appreciates a heart-warming story of a dog that has been lost and has found its way home. Some dogs have travelled remarkable distances, even through obstacles such as a fast-flowing river. After posting flyers and contacting animal shelters, the dog’s family is overjoyed when Fido shows up on their doorstep.

Some researchers suggest that lost dogs, with their sensitive noses (estimated to be thousands of times more sensitive than human noses1), can use familiar scents to find their way home. Apparently, they can sense scents from farther than 15 kilometers away.

Dogs may use earth’s magnetic field for navigation

There also appears to be evidence that dogs can use the earth’s magnetic field to help them align their journey in the right direction. A Czech study reports,

We equipped 27 hunting dogs with GPS collars and action cams, let them freely roam in forested areas, and analyzed components of homing in over 600 trials. … The inbound track during scouting started mostly with a short (about 20 m) run along the north-south geomagnetic axis, irrespective of the actual direction homewards. Performing such a ‘compass run’ significantly increased homing efficiency.2

More controlled experimental work may be required to eliminate the possibility that the dogs were using visual cues (e.g., the location of the sun). And the researchers plan some control experiments that place magnets on the dogs to see if the navigation is thrown off. Regardless, the initial work seems to indicate that dogs can sense the earth’s magnetic field.

Other animals use earth’s magnetic field for navigation

A search on ScienceDaily.com using the words ‘magnetic’ and ‘navigate’ produced dozens of summary reports. These studies document animals’ use of the earth’s magnetic field to align their migrations or other activities. Among the animals and insects which are reported to use the magnetic field are birds3,4,5,6 (see also, Jonathan Sarfati’s article in CMI’s Creation7), sea turtles,8,9 bats,10 ants,11 salmon,12,13 and sharks.14

Some bacteria have also been found to maneuver by aligning with the earth’s magnetic field.15 Plants may also react to changes in the earth’s magnetic field.16

Earth’s magnetic field decaying

It has been known for centuries that the earth is a giant magnet. Early magnetic compasses (using lodestones17) which aligned to the earth’s magnetic field appear in the historical record around the 12th century.18 However, it wasn’t until 1820 that Hans Christian Ørsted, a Danish physicist, identified the probable source generating the magnetic field as an electric current running around the earth.

Earth’s magnetic field “shields us from dangerous charged particles from the sun [solar wind].”19 (In turn, the solar wind shields us from dangerous cosmic ray particles.20) The field also provided mariners and continental explorers with compass directions before the invention of GPS, and helps animals and insects navigate.

CMI has been reporting for decades on the fact that the earth’s magnetic field is decaying exponentially and far too rapidly to support the long-ages claims of evolutionary cosmologists and biologists.21,22 Scientists who hold to the long-ages view admit that there is a measurable decay of the magnetic field, but they speculate that it regenerates on a cyclical basis. However, they are unable to provide empirical evidence for this supposed regeneration.

The decay of the earth’s magnetic field and a similar observed decay process associated with other planetary objects in our solar system is evidence that these objects are not billions of years old. Rather, they were created during the creation week documented in Genesis 1.

The decay of the earth’s magnetic field, which at minimum serves as a protective barrier for life on earth and provides guidance information for animals, presents a serious challenge for proponents of deep time.23

God’s promise to provide for mankind and animals

However, we have God’s promise:

“I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. 22 While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:21–22)

This promise provides us with the confidence that we can trust that God will provide a solution (possibly with the renovation of the created order; 2 Peter 3:13), before humans and animals will have difficulty surviving on this earth.

Published: 9 August 2022

References and notes

  1. Tyson, P., Dogs’ dazzling sense of smell, pbs.org, 10 Oct 2012. Return to text.
  2. Benediktová, K. et al. Magnetic alignment enhances homing efficiency of hunting dogs, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, 16 Jun 2020. Return to text.
  3. American Physical Society, Cryptochrome protein helps birds navigate via magnetic field, sciencedaily.com, 27 Feb 2015. Return to text.
  4. Lund University, Even non-migratory birds use a magnetic compass, sciencedaily.com, 18 May 2017. Return to text.
  5. Lund University, How birds can detect Earth’s magnetic field, sciencedaily.com, 6 Apr 2018. Return to text.
  6. Bangor University, Birds can ‘read’ the Earth’s magnetic signature well enough to get back on course, sciencedaily.com, 12 Feb 2021. Return to text.
  7. Sarfati, J., Migratory birds use magnetic GPS, Creation 44(2):16–17, 2022. Return to text.
  8. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Baby sea turtles use earth’s magnetic field to navigate across Atlantic Ocean and back, sciencedaily.com, 16 Oct 2001. Return to text.
  9. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Genetic evidence that magnetic navigation guides loggerhead sea turtles, April 12, 2018, sciencedaily.com. Return to text.
  10. Public Library of Science, Bats use magnetic substance as internal compass to help them navigate, sciencedaily.com, 27 Feb 2008. Return to text.
  11. University of Würzburg, Navigating with the sixth sense: Desert ants sense Earth’s magnetic field, sciencedaily.com, 26 Apr 2018. Return to text.
  12. Oregon State University, Land-locked Atlantic salmon also use magnetic field to navigate, sciencedaily.com, 8 Oct 2018. Return to text.
  13. Oregon State University, Magnetic pulses alter salmon’s orientation, suggesting navigation via magnetite in tissue, sciencedaily.com, 4 May 2020. Return to text.
  14. Cell Press, Sharks use Earth’s magnetic fields to guide them like a map, sciencedaily.com, 6 May 2021. Return to text.
  15. Daniel Pfeiffer et al. A bacterial cytolinker couples positioning of magnetic organelles to cell shape control, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, 30 Nov 2020. Return to text.
  16. O’Hanlon, L., Do plants feel Earth’s magnetic field?, Discovery News, 24 Jan 2014; abc.net.au. Return to text.
  17. A magnetic iron oxide, possessing polarity which can attract fragments of iron. Return to text.
  18. magnetic compass—navigational instrument, britannica.com. Return to text.
  19. Sarfati, J., The earth’s magnetic field: evidence that the earth is young, Creation 20(2):15–17, Mar 1998; updated Aug 2014. Return to text.
  20. Sarfati, J., Solar wind protects us from cosmic rays: Startling discoveries from the Voyager 2 space probe, creation.com/heliopause, 3 Mar 2020. Return to text.
  21. Snelling, A., The Earth’s magnetic field and the age of the Earth, Creation 13(4):44–48, 1991. Return to text.
  22. Magnetic fields and the science of biblical creation, creation.com, 6 Jul 2013., Return to text.
  23. Doyle, S., Deep time irrational, creation.com, 20 Jun 2013. Return to text.