The Magnetic North Pole is moving about 60km a year, away from the Canadian Arctic towards Siberia.But rather than drifting around aimlessly as it has for centuries, the pole has picked up speed and is heading fast for Siberia.
The curious shift has caught scientists’ attention and forced them to take rare action. Concerned for those who navigate in the Arctic regions, they have updated the official map of the world’s magnetic field to pinpoint the pole’s location.
The north magnetic pole has hung around northern Canada for the past 400 years as per old ships’ logs. Until 1900s, it has moved tens of kilometres, back and forth as per British Geological Survey's data.
But in the past 50 years it started to move north, and in the past 30 years it started to accelerate away. It went from moving at about five to 10km a year to 50 or 60km a year today and now it’s rapidly moving towards Siberia at about 34 miles a year.
The World Magnetic Model (WMM) tracks the positions of Earth’s magnetic poles. Funded by the US and UK military, the model is normally updated every five years. But the next update, scheduled for next year, has brought forward because of north magnetic pole’s recent movements.
Effects of North Pole Movement
The wandering pole mostly affects those navigating in the Arctic.
If GPS systems fail, pilots on planes and ships fall back on compass navigation and so need up-to-date maps on their onboard computers.
A similarly map based on the WMM is used by smartphones and car satnavs needs to be calibrated to find out what direction they are facing.
Birds that use magnetic fields to navigate might be affected.
Airport runways are named after their alignment with magnetic north, for instance, so occasionally they have to be renamed to reflect the wandering pole’s location.
The moving pole affected navigation, mainly in the Arctic ocean north of Canada. NATO and the U.S. and British militaries are among those using the magnetic model for navigation.
The newly released WMM will be incorporated into magnetic-based navigation systems, and will mostly benefit people in Arctic regions, where the errors have the biggest impact.
Reasons for North Pole Movement
The pole’s recent travels are believed to be caused by the formation of a narrow stream, much like the jet stream in the atmosphere, in the Earth’s liquid outer core. The iron-nickel core is so hot that it flows like water, 1,869 miles (3,000km) beneath the surface, creating the magnetic field and dragging it around the planet.
The north magnetic pole has been caught up in this jet and it’s pushing it rapidly across to Siberia.
The south magnetic pole is moving far more slowly than the north, because the liquid outer core is moving differently in the southern hemisphere.
Earth’s magnetic field is growing steadily weaker, leading scientists to think it will eventually flip, with the north and south poles changing places like a bar magnet flipping over. Researchers know from traces left if rocks that this has happened before, but not in the past 780,000 years. Such a flip would not be instantaneous, but would take 1,000 or more years to play out.
The decreasing intensity of the magnetic field is a global phenomenon which seems to be related to some larger scale process that’s happening below the South Atlantic.