Ah yes. The magnetometer or as we call it, Maggie. The magnetometer is a useful tool that has been around for over a century. A magnetometer is a scientific instrument used to measure the strength and/or direction of the magnetic field in the vicinity of the instrument. Magnetism varies from place to place and differences in Earth's magnetic field(the magnetosphere) can be caused by the differing nature of rocks and the interaction between charged particles from the Sun and the magnetosphere of a planet. Magnetometers are a frequent component instrument on spacecraft that explore planets or in our case a sea going vessel.
To keep it simplified: as the liquid metal core moves around the solid inner core, it creates a magnetic bipole or a North and South pole. The strength of this field would be continuous throughout the system if the Earth were a homogeneous structure. However, the Earth is a hetergeneous system and as such has effects on the magnetic field. The magnetometer allows us to detect the differences in the magnetic field created by changes within the structures of the Earth. Thus, a highly ferrous rock will have a greater effect on the surrounding magnetic field than a non-ferrous rock.
Magnetometers claim to fame: They discovered that parts of the seafloor were polarized one direction and parts were polarized in the other. Duayne has already covered seafloor spreading and magnetism so read his post for that. Without magnetometers the polar reversals would not have been discovered.
When we first begin deploying seismic equipment, Maggie is put in the water first. It is towed behind the boat about 150m back and at about a depth of about 40m. Maggie is giving us updates constantly so we can track changes in the magnetic strength as we travel across the survey area. Using the data we collect we can build a very accurate magnetic profile of Shatsky Rise when we have completed the survey.
Although the Maggie is a humble looking piece of equipment, we are glad to have it and can thank its predecessors for helping solidify plate tectonics as an accepted theory of Earth's evolution.