Published: Tue, February 05, 2019
Research | By Raquel Erickson

Drift of the North Pole forces early magnetic map update ars_ab.settitle(1451611)

Drift of the North Pole forces early magnetic map update ars_ab.settitle(1451611)

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.

While the geographic north pole is fixed, the magnetic north pole - the north that your compass points toward - is not.

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. Since 1831, the magnetic north pole in northern Canada has been moving across the Arctic toward Russian Federation. 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.

Since the pole was first measured in 1831, it has moved an estimated 1,400 miles (2,300km) towards Siberia.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tends to update the location of the magnetic north pole every five years in December, but this update came early because of the pole's faster movement.

Deep beneath the surface of the planet is a vast ocean of molten iron and nickel, churning and generating the planet's magnetic field.

Daniel Lathrop, a geophysicist at the University of Maryland, said: "It's not a question of it it's going to reverse, the question is when it's going to reverse".


Federal organizations like NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration use something called the World Magnetic Model for navigational purposes as well as surveying and mapping, satellite tracking, and air traffic management. The rate of the North Pole's motion, however, has been fast enough that the agencies who produce the model aren't comfortable with waiting for the current model expiration at the end of 2019.

With the magnetic field of the Earth changing more than predicted, the values can be off requiring an out-of-cycle update such as this.

And the magnetic poles frequently don't line up with the pole defined by the axis of the Earth's rotation.

It has happened numerous times in Earth's past, but not in the last 780,000 years. "As it flows it creates an electronic current and that current makes a magnetic field - which drifts with the hot runny core", he said.

'It's not a question of if it's going to reverse, the question is when it's going to reverse, ' Mr Lathrop said. And an overall weakening of the magnetic field isn't good for people and especially satellites and astronauts.

They can be found in the navigation systems of ships and airplanes as well as geological applications - such as drilling and mining.

'Your smartphone camera and various apps can use the magnetic field to help determine the direction you are facing, ' he continued.

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