Earth’s north magnetic pole has been drifting so fast in the last few decades that scientists say that past estimates are no longer accurate enough for precise navigation.
Earth’s geographic north pole is fixed. But the planet’s magnetic north pole — the north that every compass points toward — is moving at a speed of about 55 kilometers per year.
It crossed the international date line in 2017 and is leaving the Canadian Arctic on its way to Siberia.
The rapid movement forced scientists to release an update of the World Magnetic Model (WMM), or the actual position of the magnetic on February 4 — almost a year earlier than expected — in order to allow navigational services, including map-based phone apps, to keep working accurately.
GPS 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.
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.
The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tends to update the location of the magnetic north pole every five years in December, but this update came early because of the pole’s faster movement.
The reason is turbulence in Earth’s liquid outer core of iron and nickel, says University of Maryland geophysicist Daniel Lathrop.
“It has changes akin to weather,” Lathrop said. “We might just call it magnetic weather.” (RFERL)