Published: Wed, February 06, 2019
Science | By Michele Flores

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)

Earth's magnetic north pole has been drifting so much in recent years that scientific estimates are no longer accurate for navigation, prompting the National Centers for Environmental Information to publish updated information almost a year early. Scientists this week have updated the location of magnetic north a year ahead of schedule.

The magnetic north pole is wandering about 34 miles (55 kilometers) a year. Currently, the northern magnetic pole is moving from the Canadian Arctic towards Siberia.

Maintaining an accurate measurement of the north magnetic is especially crucial since the WMM is used by USA and British military agencies, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and smartphone technology, like Apple or Google Maps.

Global Positioning System isn't affected because it's satellite-based, but airplanes and boats also rely on magnetic north, usually as backup navigation, said University of Colorado geophysicist Arnaud Chulliat, lead author of the newly issued WMM. While modern smartphones, vehicles, ships, and airliners are connected to satellite-based navigation systems, like GPS and GLONASS, their receivers don't provide a sense of direction, rather, only a person or vehicle's fixed location.

Magnetic north is not where it used to be. The Fairbanks airport renamed runway 1L-19R to 2L-20R in 2009.

Scientists for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the British Geological Survey collaborate to produce a new World Magnetic Model - a mathematical representation of the field - every five years.

More than anything, the shift of the Magnetic North Pole affects navigation systems containing magnetic compasses.

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

Its speed jumped from about 9 miles per hour (15 kph) to 34 miles per hour (55 kph) since 2000. This spot is affected by the flows of-of liquid iron in Earth's core and hence is susceptible to movement.

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'It has changes akin to weather, Mr Lathrop said.

The US Federal Aviation Administration and space agency NASA similarly use the magnetic pole as a point of reference.

According to National Geographic, there appears to be a "tug-of-war" between two patches of magnetic field under northern Canada and Siberia thousands of kilometers below Earth.

Magnetic North is always moving, but recently the movement has significantly increased in pace, although scientists don't really know why.

"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. "The magnetic field (changes) continuously, but it is partly because of its natural behavior", he added. Comparing it's predictions to real time measurements on the shifting magnetic field.

That could bother some birds that use magnetic fields to navigate, and an overall weakening of the magnetic field is not good for people and especially satellites and astronauts.

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

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