Saturday, 20 July, 2019

Magnetic north is moving quickly causing compasses to show misleading directions

Earth's Magnetic North Pole Was Moving So Fast Geophysicists Had to Update the Map Credit Shutterstock
Sandra Phillips | 06 February, 2019, 16:13

The World Magnetic Model (WMM) enables compasses to point north and is used in navigation systems.

The magnetic pole is what compasses recognize as north - that's different from the North Pole, where all the lines of longitude meet. Currently, the northern magnetic pole is moving from the Canadian Arctic towards Siberia.

Over time, and especially in a scenario where Earth reverses polarity and the magnetic poles swap places, the moving of the Magnetic North Pole will affect animals, birds and sea life that use the polls' magnetic fields for navigation. But then the U.S. government shut down, placing the model's official release on hold, as Nature News reported earlier. Because the magnetic north pole moves about 55 kilometers (34 miles) each year, governing agencies release updates to the model every five years.

It had been hoped that the updated model could be released even earlier, last month, but it was held up by the recent shutdown in the U.S. government, which oversees the project along with the British Geological Survey in Edinburgh, Scotland. The magnetic field shields Earth from some unsafe radiation, Lathrop said.

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

Magnetic North is on the move, and it has implications for everything from navigation to consumer products. The Fairbanks airport renamed runway 1L-19R to 2L-20R in 2009. Its speed has jumped from about 9mph to 34mph since 2000.

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So scientists at the American NOAA and Britain's BGS have had to update their model ahead of the late 2019 scheduled deadline.

The core's molten iron and nickel flow rates lead to changes in the magnetic field. "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. The military depends upon where magnetic north is intended for navigation and parachute drops, whereas NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration and the US Forest Service use it. That movement is what makes the magnetic poles shift, but the cause of the recent acceleration remains a mystery. Scientists discovered the pole was not where it should be in September a year ago, and, as a result, had to update the model that tracks its movements.

Over the last few years, Earth's magnetic field has been shifting rapidly.

"It's not a question of if it's going to reverse, the question is when it's going to reverse", Lathrop said.

"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.

It does not matter much in the most populated areas, but "near the magnetic pole, the change is faster".

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