This map shows the new location of the magnetic North Pole (the white star). NOAA NCEI/CIRES
Earth’s magnetic North Pole has drifted so fast that authorities have had to officially redefine the location of the magnetic North Pole. The extreme wandering of the North Pole caused increasing concerns over navigation, especially in high latitudes.
Earth’s magnetic field is known to have wandered and flipped in the geologic past. Earth’s magnetic field is a result of spinning molten iron and nickel 1,800 miles below the surface. As the constant flow of molten metals in the outer core changes over time, it alters the external magnetic field.
What we’ve seen in the past hundred years is that the location of the magnetic North Pole has moved northward. That migration of the magnetic North Pole was switched into overdrive in the past few years, causing the pole to rapidly move. The increased speed with which the magnetic North Pole has moved prompted authorities to officially update its location. The official location of the magnetic poles is specified by the World Magnetic Model, which acts as the basis for navigation, communication, GPS, etc. around the globe.
Movement of Earth’s magnetic pole over time NOAA
On Monday, the World Magnetic Model updated their official location of the magnetic north. The model is typically updated every five years and was last updated in 2015. However, the recent rapid movement of the magnetic north prompted scientists to update the model early. In the recent past, the magnetic North Pole has moved 34 miles a year toward Russia. Just a half-century ago, the magnetic North Pole was wandering about 7 miles each year.
Earth’s magnetic North Pole is quickly moving from the Canadian Arctic toward Russia. The model update ensures the accuracy of work in governmental agencies around the world. Specifically, NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the U.S. Forest Service use the magnetic poles in their daily operations from mapping to air traffic control. On a more individual level, smartphones use the magnetic north for GPS location and compass apps.
Is Earth’s Magnetic Field About To Flip?
While the rapid movement of Earth’s magnetic North Pole may cause concern over the potential flip of magnetic poles, there is no evidence that such a flip is imminent. Geologists can interpret magnetic minerals in rocks around the world to reveal the history of magnetic reversals on Earth.
Earth’s magnetic poles have flipped many times in its history, with the latest reversal occurring 780,000 years ago and 183 times in the past 83 million years. When Earth’s magnetic poles do flip, it won’t be a catastrophic “end of the world” scenario. From examining fossil records, there is no evidence that a magnetic field reversal causes increased extinctions, volcanic activity, etc.
However, one big issue will lie in the extensive use our technology relies on the magnetic poles. A reversal would upend navigation and communication systems around the globe. Thankfully, a pole reversal in the past typically takes thousands of years to flip. This will give us ample time to develop mitigating plans. In reality, when Earth’s magnetic field does flip, who knows what planet our descendants will be living on?