The South Atlantic Anomaly (SAA) is an area where Earth's inner Van Allen radiation belt comes closest to Earth's surface, dipping down to an altitude of 200 kilometres (120 mi). This leads to an increased flux of energetic particles in this region and exposes orbiting satellites to higher-than-usual levels of radiation.
The effect is caused by the non-concentricity of Earth and its magnetic dipole. The SAA is the near-Earth region where Earth's magnetic field is weakest relative to an idealized Earth-centered dipole field.
The area of the SAA is confined by the intensity of Earth's magnetic field at less than 32,000 nanotesla at sea level, which corresponds to the dipolar magnetic field at ionospheric altitudes. However, the field itself varies in intensity as a gradient.:Figure 1
The Van Allen radiation belts are symmetric about the Earth's magnetic axis, which is tilted with respect to the Earth's rotational axis by an angle of approximately 11°. The intersection between the magnetic and rotation axes of the Earth is located not at the Earth's center, but some 450 to 500 km (280 to 310 mi) away. Because of this asymmetry, the inner Van Allen belt is closest to the Earth's surface over the south Atlantic Ocean where it dips down to 200 km (120 mi) in altitude, and farthest from the Earth's surface over the north Pacific Ocean.