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study of the intensity and orientation of the earth's magnetic field as preserved in the magnetic orientation of certain minerals found in rocks formed throughout geologic time.

Paleomagnetic studies of rocks and ocean sediment have demonstrated that the orientation of the earth's magnetic field has frequently alternated over geologic time.

Periods of "normal" polarity (i.e., when the north-seeking end of the compass needle points toward the present north magnetic pole, as it does today) have alternated with periods of "reversed" polarity (when the north-seeking end of the compass needle points southward).

The cause of these magnetic "flip-flops" is not clearly understood.

The record of the strength and direction of Earth’s magnetic field (paleomagnetism, or fossil magnetism) is an important source of our knowledge about the Earth’s evolution throughout the entire geological history.

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