Researchers from various universities around the globe have discovered that Earth’s core has been leaking for the past 2.5 billion years. This could have devastating effects on the planet’s magnetic field, which plays a vital role in supporting life on the planet.

In a new study, which was published in the journal Geochemical Perspective Letters, researchers from the U.S., Australia, Canada and France said that they have found traces of substances from the Earth’s core leaking into the upper mantle. They were able to make their discovery after studying various rock samples taken from the mantle and the surface.

The researchers explained that the planet’s core is composed of nickel and iron combined with other elements such as gold, tungsten and platinum. Since the core can reach temperatures of up to 5,000 degrees Celsius, it cannot be studied directly. In order to observe the core’s status, the researchers turned to its effects on the surface of Earth.

While analyzing rock samples from the mantle and surface, the researchers discovered traces of tungsten isotopes. The presence of tungsten in the samples surprised the research team because there were little to no traces of the isotopes on the mantle or older rocks that are 2.7 to 4.3 billion years old.

This means that in the last 2.5 billion years, the composition of the mantle has significantly changed due to the high level of tungsten isotopes. According to the researchers, their findings strongly indicated that Earth’s core has been leaking.

Although follow-up studies are yet to be conducted regarding the implications of the discovery, scientific theories suggest that a leaking core could have drastic effects on the Earth’s magnetic field. This is a protective layer around Earth that keeps the planet habitable by shielding it from the effects of radiation and solar particles from space.

As explained by the U.S. Geological Survey, the magnetic field protecting Earth is generated by the electric currents caused by the convection currents or heat transfer of molten iron in the outer core. The convective movement produces kinetic energy that is then converted into electrical and magnetic energies.

A leak in the core could affect its overall function, which could then lead to the collapse of Earth’s magnetic field. If this happens, Earth could be left vulnerable to the dangers from space and could even turn into an uninhabitable planet.

Earth magnetic field
Study shows Earth could witness more rapid magnetic field reversal. Pictured, a schematic illustration of Earth's magnetic field. NASA / Peter Reid, The University of Edinburgh