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 March 14th, 2017, 05:11 PM #1 Senior Member   Joined: May 2015 From: Arlington, VA Posts: 281 Thanks: 24 Math Focus: Number theory E-M body What is the net flow of electricity (natural and manmade) across Earth's surface? Can the current be described as a circuit (with nodes?) Or likened to a "gravitational atom"? Are these electrons significantly affected by the Earth's dynamo effect and the solar wind?
 March 14th, 2017, 05:45 PM #2 Senior Member   Joined: Feb 2016 From: Australia Posts: 1,460 Thanks: 489 Math Focus: Yet to find out. The second and third questions ultimately depend on the first, so i guess starting with that would be good. My intuitive answer at first glance is that there is none. Or, it is so unimaginably small that there may be no use looking into it. But i don't know for sure. How long since you've walked outside and stuck a multi-meter in the ground? What do you hope to find? To refine the question, we might need to ask for further clarification on "Earth's surface". I'm no geologist, but i think there are names for different layers of the surface of a planet, i.e., crust, mantle etc.
 March 14th, 2017, 05:51 PM #3 Senior Member   Joined: May 2015 From: Arlington, VA Posts: 281 Thanks: 24 Math Focus: Number theory What if the question is restricted to the man-made power grid?
March 14th, 2017, 05:57 PM   #4
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 Originally Posted by Loren What if the question is restricted to the man-made power grid?
So, the net current flowing through say, a thing layer of Earth beneath an operating power plant?

 March 14th, 2017, 11:49 PM #5 Senior Member   Joined: May 2015 From: Arlington, VA Posts: 281 Thanks: 24 Math Focus: Number theory I was considering all man-made electrical networks, basically +/- 1000 meters above and below the Earth's surface. Think of where wires are present. By Kirchhoff's laws, most currents would cancel where there are nodes, and voltages would cancel where there are local loops. I guess that in the oceans or e.g., North Korea, there would be few nodes or loops, thus the nodes would be mostly simple, and the loops large. Advanced nations' networks might form a Faraday cage over them. North Korea would be vulnerable to remote sensing or clandestine interference with their relatively simple electrical systems. Current-generated magnetic fields would be more dense over advanced nations. Weak areas may prefer clockwise or counterclockwise current, depending on forces within the loop, mostly those of Earth's dynamo and the solar wind. Blackouts often appear due to the finite speed of light over a loop or on too complicated a node.
 March 15th, 2017, 02:06 AM #6 Senior Member   Joined: Jun 2015 From: England Posts: 704 Thanks: 202 An Earth (in circuit theory) is a node or component that does not obey Kirchoff's Laws. Formally it is a one terminal component that maintains constant potential (voltage) regardless of the current entering (sink) or leaving (source).
March 15th, 2017, 02:28 AM   #7
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 Originally Posted by studiot An Earth (in circuit theory) is a node or component that does not obey Kirchoff's Laws. Formally it is a one terminal component that maintains constant potential (voltage) regardless of the current entering (sink) or leaving (source).
Although this is more or less applicable, i'm not sure that Loren is referring to earth in this sense.

 March 15th, 2017, 02:33 AM #8 Senior Member   Joined: Jun 2015 From: England Posts: 704 Thanks: 202 For most purposes the planet Earth is the nearest thing we have to a circuit ideal earth.
 March 15th, 2017, 06:10 AM #9 Senior Member   Joined: May 2015 From: Arlington, VA Posts: 281 Thanks: 24 Math Focus: Number theory Kirchoff's laws apply to electrical circuits. Mankind's electrical grid is such a circuit. Other than having a spherical topology, it is a system of active wires which embodies loops and nodes on the large scale. Does our current on Earth's surface have a preferred direction or density? Is its stability affected by natural events resulting in blackouts? (By "Earth" I am not referring to "ground.")
March 15th, 2017, 09:51 AM   #10
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Quote:
 Originally Posted by Loren What is the net flow of electricity (natural and manmade) across Earth's surface?
Short answer: I don't know... but...

...the Earth is basically filled with atoms and free electrons. The electrons mostly comprise static electricity and don't form neat currents naturally most of the time (thankfully!... lightning is the obvious exception).

Therefore, asking "what is the net flow of electricity on Earth?" is similar to asking "what is the net flow of wind on the Earth?" Well... there is a veritable smorgasbord of wind speeds at different locations at different scales. Similarly, the electric currents occurring on Earth are probably all over the place and with different magnitudes, with most being much, much smaller than man-made currents. Man-made currents vary wildly dependent on the load, but tend to be of the order of about ~few milliamps to ~few tens of amps.

If you find an answer, let me know

Quote:
 Can the current be described as a circuit (with nodes?) Or likened to a "gravitational atom"?
Nope, it's a mess. You could probably try making some form of back-of-the-envelop approximation but I'd wager one of my Mars bars that you would probably be unable to derive anything meaningful from it.

Quote:
 Are these electrons significantly affected by the Earth's dynamo effect and the solar wind?
Earth's magnetic field affects the solar wind because the distances travelled by charged particles in the solar wind are large, so there is an appreciable deflection in the weak field, but the effect on terrestrial electrons is very small (negligible?).

From my understanding, the dynamo effect occurs due to the currents occurring in the Earth's core which has a high iron content. The Earth's mantle and crust probably insulates the iron core from large-scale currents, but I'm not sure how effective it is at doing that.

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