Rapid shifts in the Earth’s north magnetic pole are forcing researchers to make an unprecedented early update to a model that helps navigation by ships, planes and submarines in the Arctic, scientists said. Compass needles point towards the north magnetic pole, a point which has crept unpredictably from the coast of northern Canada a century ago to the middle of the Arctic Ocean, moving towards Russia.
Ciaran Beggan, of the British Geological Survey in Edinburgh said that the north magnetic pole is moving 50 kms a year and it had not moved much between 1900 and 1980. He added that it had moved drastically in last 40 years.
A five-year update of a World Magnetic Model was due in 2020 but the U.S. military requested an unprecedented early review, he said. The BGS runs the model with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The wandering pole is driven by unpredictable changes in liquid iron deep inside the Earth. Beggan said the recent shifts in the north magnetic pole would be unnoticed by most people outside the Arctic, for instance using smartphones in New York, Beijing or London. Navigation systems in cars or phones rely on radio waves from satellites high above the Earth to pinpoint their position on the ground.
Many smartphones have inbuilt compasses to help to orientate maps or games such as Pokemon Go. In most places, however, the compass would be pointing only fractionally wrong, within errors allowed in the five-year models, Beggan said.