Check your compass: The magnetic north pole is on the move

06 February, 2019, 00:42 | Author: Darnell Taylor
  • Earth's Magnetic North Pole Was Moving So Fast Geophysicists Had to Update the Map

But the north magnetic pole's inexorable drift suggests that something unusual - and potentially powerful - is taking place deep within Earth. On Monday, they released an update of where magnetic north really was, almost a year ahead of schedule. The model uses the latest data to predict how the magnetic field and two magnetic poles will move in the years in-between updates.

At the moment, the northern magnetic pole is moving away from the Canadian Arctic and toward Siberia.

Accounting for the shift in the pole's location is particularly important in areas above the 55th parallel, which covers northern Canada, Scandanavia, and much of Russian Federation. It is also used by smartphone providers for Global Positioning System, maps and compass apps. Planes and boats also rely on magnetic north, usually as back-up navigation, said University of Colorado geophysicist Arnaud Chulliat, lead author of the newly issued World Magnetic Model.

Compasses have been used for navigation long before Global Positioning System was ever even dreamed of.

The US military depends on where magnetic north is for navigation and parachute drops, while Nasa, the Federal Aviation Administration and US Forest Service also use it.

For example, airport runway names are based on their direction toward magnetic north and their names change when the poles move.

The magnetic south pole is moving far slower than the north.

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Since the pole was first measured in 1831, it has moved an estimated 1,400 miles (2,300km) towards Siberia. Its speed has jumped from about 9mph to 34mph since 2000.

"The dynamo of Earth's core creates a magnetic field that is slightly tilted from the planet's rotational axis".

"Due to unplanned variations in the Arctic region, scientists have released a new model to more accurately represent the change of the magnetic field", a statement from the NOAA said. To compensate, the US' National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the United Kingdom's Defence Geographic Centre have combined to build the World Magnetic Model.

While the geographic north pole is fixed, the magnetic north pole - the north that your compass points toward - is not. Changes in that underground flow can alter the Earth's magnetic field lines - and the poles where they converge.

If the poles flip, compasses will point south - and it could have significant effects on Earth's power grid (although it's not likely to happen immediately, despite doomsday-mongers' obsession with the idea). Only by tracking it, said University of Leeds geophysicist Phil Livermore, can scientists hope to understand what's going on.

"We've updated the model on a five-year cycle, because in the past, that's the average amount time it takes for the errors to become too large", Chulliat said.

Mr Lathrop sees a flip coming sooner rather than later because of the weakened magnetic field, and an area of the South Atlantic has already reversed beneath Earth's surface. The magnetic field shields Earth from some unsafe radiation, Lathrop said.

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