We’re not using “magnetism” in the metaphorical sense, the Hawaii volcano Kilauea is doing something pretty strange. Over the past month, the extremely active shield volcano has caused countless damage on Hawaii’s largest island of the same name.

Adding to the ongoing story is a weird occurrence regarding the Hawaii volcano’s magnetic field. Namely, it seems to pointing in the opposite direction of Earth’s. In other words, in Kilauea’s mind, north is south and vice versa.

Why are Volcanoes Magnetic in the First Place?

Let’s start deep underground. Earth’s core is composed of molten rock churning and churning beneath our feet. This molten rock contains high levels of iron, a ferromagnetic element, and as the Earth rotates, this iron produces a dynamo effect and generates the planet’s magnetic field.

Volcanoes are essentially openings in the Earth’s crust that are tapped into this layer of iron-rich magma. When a volcano erupts, this magnetic, molten rock reaches the planet’s surface and, among all of the other devastation wreak havoc on our perception of Earth’s magnetic field.

What Makes a Hawaii Volcano Flip Its Magnetic Field?

It turns out that the iron below Mount Kilauea never flipped at all—everything else did! Almost 800,000 years ago, Earth’s magnetic field reversed direction. The north pole became the south pole and vice versa. However, all of that iron resting beneath the Hawaii volcano was frozen in place as a solid and never got the flipping memo, meaning it stayed exactly the same as it’s always been.

To test this theory, scientists in Hawaii approached the angry volcano (please don’t try this at home) with a simple compass. Instead of the needle pointing toward magnetic north like it’s supposed to, it started to spin out of control.

While the volcano’s interference doesn’t pose any immediate threats to navigation or electronics, the volcano itself continues to devastate large portions of Hawaii’s big island.

Keep up on all the latest magnetic news by subscribing to our newsletter or checking out the rest of the Apex Magnets blog. Read up on other strange magnetism on the planet, like ocean magnetism and earth's magnetic field!