Published: Tue, February 05, 2019
Science | By

North magnetic pole fast moving towards Siberia, forcing navigation fix

North magnetic pole fast moving towards Siberia, forcing navigation fix

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.

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. 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.

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.

In early 2018, scientists in charge of the model update realized they needed to have an earlier update in order to keep within the acceptable limits for magnetic-based navigation.

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.

Since 1831 when it was first measured in the Canadian Arctic it has moved about 1,400 miles towards Siberia. "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.

"The declination has changed just over 2.5 degrees over the past 22 years since Denver opened", Heath Montgomery, former Denver International Airport spokesperson, said in a statement after the last update.


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

Magnetic North is always moving, but recently the movement has significantly increased in pace, although scientists don't really know why. The magnetic field changes due to unpredictable flows of the Earth's molten core.

NASA said: "The last time that Earth's poles flipped in a major reversal was about 780,000 years ago, in what scientists call the Brunhes-Matuyama reversal".

Magnetic North is on the move, and it has implications for everything from navigation to consumer products.

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.

North is not quite where it used to be.

The WMM is also part of map applications in smartphones, including the Google Maps App.

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