The Earth’s north magnetic pole is moving away from the Canadian Arctic and is heading towards Siberia in Russia, said the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The movement forced scientists to update the World Magnetic Model (WMM), which is used by NATO and militaries around the world, for its location.
“Due to unplanned variations in the Arctic region, scientists have released a new model to more accurately represent the change of the magnetic field between 2015 and now,” said NOAA in a news release on Feb. 4.
Since 1831, the north magnetic has been moving across the Canadian Arctic towards Russia, which is unlike the geographic north pole, which is fixed, NOAA reported.
In recent years, magnetic north has been shifting at a rate of around 34 miles per year, NPR reported.
NOAA explained that the WMM is updated every five years, but due to the shift of the pole, scientists were forced to publish the WMM update a year earlier.
“With the last release in 2015, the next version is scheduled for release at the end of 2019. Due to unplanned variations in the Arctic region, scientists have released a new model to more accurately represent the change of the magnetic field between 2015 and now,” said the news release.
“This out-of-cycle update before next year’s official release of WMM2020 will ensure safe navigation for military applications, commercial airlines, search and rescue operations, and others operating around the North Pole,” it added.
NOAA noted that the “military uses the WMM for undersea and aircraft navigation, parachute deployment, and more,” adding that “NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration, U.S. Forest Service, and many more use this technology for surveying and mapping, satellite/antenna tracking, and air traffic management.”
Meanwhile, smartphones and other electronic devices rely on the WMM to provide consumers with accurate maps, compasses, and GPS services.
“Airport runways are perhaps the most visible example of a navigation aid updated to match shifts in Earth’s magnetic field. Airports around the country use the data to give runways numerical names, which pilots refer to on the ground,” said the agency.
Also, migratory animals such as birds, butterflies, and whales use the magnetic field for directions. Other animals like cows can sense the Earth’s magnetic field, and they position themselves towards a magnetic pole while grazing.
“The average user is not going to be overly affected by this unless they happened to be trekking around the high Arctic,” Ciaran Beggan, a geophysicist, told National Geographic.
Earth’s magnetic field has been slowly changing throughout its existence. The magnetic drift takes place amid processes at the center of the planet.
The core’s molten iron and nickel flow rates lead to changes in the magnetic field.
“The dynamo of Earth’s core creates a magnetic field that is slightly tilted from the planet’s rotational axis. The northern end of this planet-size bar magnet is what’s known as geomagnetic north—a point sitting off the northwest coast of Greenland that’s changed position little over the last century,” explained National Geographic of the phenomenon.
Earth's magnetic north pole, the north your compass points to, wanders in the direction of Siberia at a rate of over 34 miles per year — and that poses a problem for your smartphone maps.