North magnetic pole moving for 40 km per year


Rapid changes in the Earth's north magnetic pole are forcing researchers to make an unprecedented initial upgrade to a model that helps ships, planes and submarines in the Arctic navigate, scientists say.

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Photograph: 123RF

The compass's needles point to the magnetic north pole, a spot that has unpredictably crawled off the coast of northern Canada a century ago, into the middle of the Arctic Ocean, moving toward Russia.

"It's moving about 50 kilometers a year. It did not move much between 1900 and 1980, but it really accelerated in the last 40 years," said Ciaran Beggan of the British Geological Survey (BGS) in Edinburgh.

A five-year update of the World Magnetic Model was planned for 2020, but the US military called for an unprecedented early review, he said.

BGS runs the model with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

An update will be released on January 30, Nature magazine said, postponed from January 15 because of the US government's shutdown.

Beggan said the mobile pole affected navigation, especially in the Arctic Ocean, north of Canada. NATO and the US and British military are among those using the magnetic model as well as civilian navigators.

The wandering pole is driven by unpredictable changes in the liquid iron inside the Earth.

"The fact that the pole is going fast makes this region more prone to big mistakes," said Arnaud Chulliat, a geomagnetist at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and NOAA's National Environmental Information Centers.

But Beggan said the recent changes in the north pole of the country would not be noticed by most people outside the Arctic, for example, those using smartphones in New York, Beijing or London.

Car navigation systems or telephones rely on satellite radio waves above Earth to identify their position on the ground.

"It does not really affect middle or low latitudes," Dr. Beggan said. "It really would not affect anyone driving a car."

Many smartphones have built-in compasses to help guide maps or games like Pokemon Go.

In most places, however, the compass would be pointing weakly wrong, within the bugs allowed in the five-year models, Dr. Beggan said.

– Reuters


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