The magnetic north pole of EARTH is not where it should be, thanks to strange and erratic movements that can mean problems for airplanes, boats and even your smartphone.
Magnetic north has spread so fast in the last few decades that scientists are struggling to maintain the navigation technology that depends on the magnetic poles to map the planet to this day.
On Monday, the boffins released an update of where the magnetic north really is, almost a year ahead of schedule.
The locations of the magnetic poles are not static, but wander 14.5 kilometers a year, and scientists closely monitor their movements.
For some reason, the magnetic north pole is moving away from Canada toward Siberia at a speed of 55 kilometers a year – three times faster than scientists expected.
Experts say that older estimates about the direction of magnetic north are no longer accurate enough for accurate navigation.
Fast moving is a problem for compasses on smartphones and some consumer electronics.
Aircraft and ships also rely on magnetic north as a backup in case their GPS systems go awry while the US military uses it to make parachute landings.
Airport lanes are sometimes named after Magnetic North location, and their names change if it moves.
For example, Fairbanks airport in Alaska has renamed runway 1L-19R to 2L-20R in 2009.
Without a precise idea of where magnetic north is, many of our navigation systems may be in trouble – although GPS tools are not affected as they depend on satellite technology.
The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the UK update the location of magnetic north once every five years.
But the recent update came early because of the faster movement of the pole.
"The error is increasing all the time," said Arnaud Chulliat, a University of Colorado at Boulder scientist at Nature.
Scientists are still trying to figure out what lies behind the strange behavior of Earth's magnetic field.
The Earth's magnetism comes from its scorching hot core, which is filled with liquid iron that stirs beneath the surface of the planet.
As the Earth rotates, moving iron generates electric currents that create a magnetic field.
The field is constantly changing and, every 300,000 years, the poles may even turn.
The last time this happened was about 780,000 years ago, prompting some scientists to warn that Earth is late – an event that could cause GPS chaos.
This story originally appeared in The Sun and is republished with permission.
Originally published as north magnetic pole not where it should be