North magnetic pole fast moving towards Siberia, forcing navigation fix

Cristina Cross
February 6, 2019

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.

And unlike the geographic north pole, which is fixed, the north magnetic pole has been slowly migrating over time - moving across the Candian Arctic toward Russian Federation since 1831.

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

The movement forced scientists to update the World Magnetic Model (WMM), which is used by North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and militaries around the world, for its location. 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.

Scientists first noticed the change in 2018 thanks to a "huge amount of satellite data", which showed the pole had gone beyond the model's predicted area, Beggan said. To compensate, the US' National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the United Kingdom's Defence Geographic Centre have combined to build the World Magnetic Model.

"This out-of-cycle update before next year's official release of WMM2020 will ensure safe navigation for military applications, commercial airlines, search and rescue operations, and others operating around the North Pole", it added.

The World Magnetic Model (WMM) is a representation of Earth's magnetic field.

The magnetic south pole is moving far slower than the north.

The origin of Earth's magnetism lies in its outer core, a more than 2,000-km layer of liquid iron and some other metals like nickel, that surrounds the central core, or the innermost part. Over the last 780,000 years, fossil records indicate that the poles have moved and switched a number of times, with no recognizable harm to living organisms.

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

The NOAA said Earth's magnetic field changes because of "unpredictable flows in Earth's core".

When it does, it will not be like a coin flip, but will take 1,000 or more years, experts said.

That could bother some birds that use magnetic fields to navigate. Consequently, magnetic north doesn't align with geographic north (the end point of Earth's rotational axis), and it's constantly on the move.

Smartphones and other electronic devices rely on the WMM to provide consumers with accurate maps, compasses, and Global Positioning System services.

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

Researchers from the US's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) maintain the WMM.

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

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