A Complex Field

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Science  07 Aug 1998:
Vol. 281, Issue 5378, pp. 791-792
DOI: 10.1126/science.281.5378.791

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Paleomagnetic data--measurements of the magnetic fields locked into ancient rock--can reveal the locations of continental blocks early in Earth's history. As Van der Voo describes in his Perspective, the calculations of paleogeography have assumed that Earth's magnetic field is a simple dipole. Yet recent studies have shown that the more subtle features of the magnetic field--quadrupole and octopole effects--can have a large influence on the calculations. The results have serious implications for efforts to reconstruct the ancient continental configurations.