Earth's Magnetic North Pole Was Moving So Fast, Geophysicists Had to Update the Map

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Earth's magnetic North Pole has been wildly shifting towards Russia so quickly that scientists have been forced to publish an update on its actual location a year early.

The World Magnetic Model (WMM) enables compasses to point north and is used in navigation systems. Its latest update revealed the North Magnetic Pole is wandering about 34 miles a year. It crossed the international dateline in 2017 and is leaving the Canadian Arctic on its way to Siberia.

This is causing a navigational nightmare for compasses in smartphones, boats and for airport navigators as well as in some consumer electronics, and WMM was forced to update a year early in order to keep it accurate.

WMM provides a five year forecast of changes to the Earth's magnetic field.  The US and UK 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.

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 US government, which oversees the project along with the British Geological Survey in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Turbulence in in the planet's core, where the motion generates an electric field, has caused the field to change in systems described as 'akin to weather'.





Airplanes and boats also rely on magnetic north, usually as backup navigation, said University of Colorado geophysicist Dr. Arnaud Chulliat, lead author of the WMM. 

The 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. GPS is not affected because it's satellite-based.

Airport runway names are also based on their direction toward magnetic north and their names change when the poles moved. 

For example, the airport in Fairbanks, Alaska, renamed a runway 1L-19R to 2L-20R in 2009.

Since 1831 when it was first measured in the Canadian Arctic it has moved about 1400 miles (2300 km) towards Siberia.

The magnetic north pole is located at the white star and the individual lines in red and blue show the magentic field lines of Earth. These are used in navigation systems by boats and for airport navigators as well as in some consumer electronics

The magnetic north pole is located at the white star and the individual lines in red and blue show the magnetic field lines of Earth. These are used in navigation systems by boats and for airport navigators as well as in some consumer electronics

Its speed jumped from about 9 mph (15 kph) to 34 mph (55 kph) since 2000.

The reason is turbulence in Earth's liquid outer core. 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.

Dr Lathrop, who who wasn’t part of the team monitoring the magnetic north pole said: 'It has changes akin to weather. We might just call it magnetic weather.'

The magnetic South Pole is moving far slower than the north.

In general Earth's magnetic field is getting weaker, leading scientists to say that it will eventually flip, where north and south pole changes polarity, like a bar magnet flipping over.

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,' Dr. Lathrop said.

When it reverses, it won't be like a coin flip, but take 1,000 or more years, experts said.

Dr. Lathrop sees a flip coming sooner rather than later because of the weakened magnetic field and an area over the South Atlantic has already reversed beneath Earth's surface.

That could bother some birds that use magnetic fields to navigate. And an overall weakening of the magnetic field isn't good for people and especially satellites and astronauts.

The magnetic field shields Earth from some dangerous radiation, Dr Lathrop said.

 Scientists in recent years have predicted that Earth’s magnetic field could be gearing up to ‘flip’ – a shift in which the magnetic south pole would become magnetic north, and vice versa. Earth's magnetic field is illustrated above

Scientists in recent years have predicted that Earth's magnetic field could be gearing up to 'flip' – a shift in which the magnetic south pole would become magnetic north, and vice versa. Earth's magnetic field is illustrated above

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