Surveys in Geophysics

, Volume 27, Issue 5, pp 557–595 | Cite as

Solar and geomagnetic activity, extremely low frequency magnetic and electric fields and human health at the Earth’s surface

  • S. J. PalmerEmail author
  • M. J. Rycroft
  • M. Cermack


The possibility that conditions on the Sun and in the Earth’s magnetosphere can affect human health at the Earth’s surface has been debated for many decades. This work reviews the research undertaken in the field of heliobiology, focusing on the effect of variations of geomagnetic activity on human cardiovascular health. Data from previous research are analysed for their statistical significance, resulting in support for some studies and the undermining of others. Three conclusions are that geomagnetic effects are more pronounced at higher magnetic latitudes, that extremely high as well as extremely low values of geomagnetic activity seem to have adverse health effects and that a subset of the population (10–15%) is predisposed to adverse health due to geomagnetic variations. The reported health effects of anthropogenic sources of electric and magnetic fields are also briefly discussed, as research performed in this area could help to explain the results from studies into natural electric and magnetic field interactions with the human body.

Possible mechanisms by which variations in solar and geophysical parameters could affect human health are discussed and the most likely candidates investigated further. Direct effects of natural ELF electric and magnetic fields appear implausible; a mechanism involving some form of resonant absorption is more likely. The idea that the Schumann resonance signals could be the global environmental signal absorbed by the human body, thereby linking geomagnetic activity and human health is investigated. Suppression of melatonin secreted by the pineal gland, possibly via desynchronised biological rhythms, appears to be a promising contender linking geomagnetic activity and human health. There are indications that calcium ions in cells could play a role in one or more mechanisms. It is found to be unlikely that a single mechanism can explain all of the reported phenomena.


Cardiovascular system ELF waves Geomagnetic activity Heliobiology Melatonin Schumann resonance 


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The authors thank the three referees for their careful evaluation of this paper and for their helpful suggestions.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Cranfield UniversityCranfieldUK
  2. 2.Scott Polar Research InstituteCambridgeUK
  3. 3.CAESAR ConsultancyCambridgeUK
  4. 4.International Space UniversityIllkirch-GraffenstadenFrance
  5. 5.Applied Science Technologies NetworkLachenSwitzerland
  6. 6.International Space UniversityIllkirch-GraffenstadenFrance

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