The movement of the magnetic north pole has forced scientists to update the World Magnetic Model a year before they thought they would have to. Last summer, the discrepancy between the real-time location of the north magnetic pole and the World Magnetic Model was almost to the point where it would have exceeded the threshold needed for accurate navigation. The model, commissioned by military agencies in the U.K. and U.S., typically receives an update every five years.
The magnetic north pole is not fixed like the geographic north pole. Scientists have been tracking the pole’s movement toward Siberia in Russia since 1831. The pole is now moving across the Canadian Arctic at a rate of around 34 miles per year, moving roughly 600 miles since 1990. Between 1900 and 1980, the pole was moving roughly 6 miles a year.
In a statement, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information said, “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. The changes are largely limited to latitudes above 55 degrees, with users below that line seeing negligible differences.
Interestingly, the magnetic south pole doesn’t move like the one in the north. Its position has remained relatively stable since 1990. However, records of ancient magnetic fields show that the poles also have the ability to flip, with occurrences happening an average of three times every million years. The last magnetic field reversal appears to have occurred about 780,000 years ago.
The drifting of the magnetic north pole could create a problem for smartphone maps and navigation systems. In addition to military applications, the model is also used by Google and Apple’s mapping systems. Some scientists think a jet stream of molten liquid in Earth’s core is responsible for the movement the magnetic north pole. Others speculate that the acceleration is an indication that the poles are preparing to flip again.