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

06 February 2019

A more serious possible outcome of the "tug of war" between magnetic field patches in northern Canada and Siberia, which some scientists say is causing the accelerated movement of the magnetic north pole, is its potential to weaken the magnetic shield sparing earth from deadly solar and cosmic radiation. Scientists this week have updated the location of magnetic north a year ahead of schedule.

The magnetic North Pole's unprecedented movement began in the mid-1990s and it is now headed from the Canadian Arctic toward Siberia at roughly 55 kilometers per year, the journal Nature reported last month.

The Earth's north magnetic pole is moving away from the Canadian Arctic and is heading towards Siberia in Russian Federation, said the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

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.

The constant shift is a problem for compasses in smartphones and some consumer electronics.

The magnetic shift might not be an issue for satellite-based Global Positioning System but USA military ships in the region rely on the pole for navigation. WMM data is also used by NASA, the FAA, U.S. Forest Service, and for mapping and satellite tracking.

Since 1831, the north magnetic has been moving across the Canadian Arctic towards Russian Federation, which is unlike the geographic north pole, which is fixed. The Fairbanks airport renamed runway 1L-19R to 2L-20R in 2009.

The US and United Kingdom tend to update the location of the North Magnetic Pole every five years in December, but this update came early because of the pole's faster movement.

Livermore's research suggests that the North Pole's location is controlled by two patches of magnetic field beneath Canada and Siberia. Its speed has jumped from about 9mph to 34mph since 2000. There is a hot liquid ocean of iron and nickel in the planet's core where the motion generates an electric field, said University of Maryland geophysicist Dr Daniel Lathrop.

'It has changes akin to weather, Mr Lathrop said. The northern magnetic pole always moves, resulting in a new map of the World Magnetic Model (WMM) every five years.

Some scientists believe that Earth could be heading for a magnetic pole reversal.

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.

It has happened numerous times in Earth's past, but not in the last 780,000 years.

'It's not a question of if it's going to reverse, the question is when it's going to reverse, ' Mr Lathrop said. "It didn't move much between 1900 and 1980 but it's really accelerated in the past 40 years", said Ciaran Beggan, of the British Geological Survey in Edinburgh.

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.

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