Unexpected magnetic north pole changes mean new world magnetic model map

James Marshall
February 5, 2019

The World Magnetic Model (WMM) enables compasses to point north and is used in navigation systems.

On Monday, they released an update of where magnetic north really is, almost a year ahead of schedule.

At the moment, the northern magnetic pole is moving away from the Canadian Arctic and toward Siberia.

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 USA and British militaries - a year ahead of schedule.

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 while most scientists believe this shift will not lead to any catastrophic mass extinctions, the scenes may be frightening, looking something like the pictures of thousands of dead birds and fish in Arkansas in 2011, which some scientists thought may have been related to animals' sensitivity to changes in the Earth's magnetic field. However, a year ago users said the model had "become inaccurate in the Arctic region", a statement from the British Geological Survey said.

Mr Lathrop sees a flip coming sooner rather than later because of the weakened magnetic field, and an area of the South Atlantic has already reversed beneath Earth's surface.

The magnetic shift might not be an issue for satellite-based Global Positioning System but U.S. military ships in the region rely on the pole for navigation.

WMM helps to calibrate accurate geographical data for a host of consumer uses including compass apps, maps, and Global Positioning System services found on cellphones and other electronic devices.

It might sound like something out of a Hollywood disaster movie, but the world's magnetic northern pole has changed.

For example, the airport in Fairbanks, Alaska, renamed a runway 1L-19R to 2L-20R in 2009.

Since 1831 when it was first measured in the Canadian Arctic it has moved about 1400 miles (2300 km) towards Siberia. Its speed has jumped from about 9mph to 34mph since 2000.

Magnetic declination - the angle between the magnetic north and true north - changes over time.

Beneath the molten core is the Earth's solid centre - a ball of tough iron believed to be about two-thirds the size of the Moon.

"It has changes akin to weather", Lathrop said.

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

The magnetic north pole's movement over the past five decades. And unlike the geographic north pole, which is fixed, the north magnetic pole has been slowly migrating over time - moving across the Canadian Arctic toward Russian Federation since 1831. The latest update was done using data from the last three years.

When it reverses, it won't be like a coin flip, but take 1,000 or more years, experts said.

The South Magnetic Pole is moving far slower than the north. The model is accompanied by software that helps navigation services adjust to the magnetic field's quirks.

The magnetic field shields Earth from some risky radiation, Mr Lathrop said.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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