Earth's Magnetic Pole is Quickly Moving Toward Russia, Models Say

Olive Hawkins
February 5, 2019

Earth's North Magnetic Pole has been drifting so fast in the last few decades that scientists say past estimates are no longer accurate enough for precise navigation. The Magnetic North Pole describes the point where the Earth's natural magnetic field points inwards and down to the ground. Updates to this system typically happen every five years, but the relatively rapid motion of the North Pole has necessitated an accelerated schedule for this update-which then ended up delayed by the recent shutdown of the US Federal Government. Since 1831, the magnetic north pole in northern Canada has been moving across the Arctic toward Russian Federation.

But its swift pace toward Siberia in recent years at a rate of around 34 miles per year has forced scientists to update the World Magnetic Model - used by civilian navigation systems, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and U.S. and British militaries - a year ahead of schedule.

In the 189 years since it was first measured in the Canadian Arctic, it has moved some 2,300 kilometers toward Siberia, and its speed jumped from about 15 kilometers per year to 55 kilometers per year since 2000. "By sampling these rocks and using radiometric dating techniques, it has been possible to reconstruct the history of the Earth's magnetic field for roughly the last 160 million years", wrote the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in a blog post.

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

Yet for the military sector, the World Magnetic Model is of strategic importance - unlike satellites, it can not be hacked by foreign powers.

The movement of the magnetic north pole "is pretty fast", Mr Chulliat said. Scientists discovered the pole was not where it should be in September previous year, and, as a result, had to update the model that tracks its movements.

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The Earth's magnetic field doesn't neatly line up with the geometry of our near-spherical planet.

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

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. Everyday users of maps applications will never notice the subtleties caused by a misplaced magnetic pole, but submarines and aircraft do still rely on compasses in addition to newer technologies.

'Although GPS is a great tool for navigation, it is limited in that it only provides your position, ' geodetic scientist James Friederich from the US National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency explained in 2014.

'All of these examples need the WMM to provide your proper orientation'.

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