The magnetic North Pole is moving toward Russia
If you take out a compass and follow the needle north, it won’t take you directly to the North Pole — or 90 degrees north latitude.
Instead, your long journey by land and sea and ice would currently take you to a spot in the Arctic Ocean a few hundred miles away from geographic North. 115 years ago, it would have dropped you off in Canada.
This week — after a delay due to the US government shutdown — the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a new World Magnetic Model that shows the pole has moved yet again, and at a weirdly fast pace.
The model is a map of magnetic north and the Earth’s magnetic field. And magnetic north has now moved away from Canada and toward Siberia, in a nearly straight line.
The locations of magnetic north and south have always been moving targets.
Because of that, NOAA and its partners in the UK release an updated magnetic model of the Earth every five years.
That way, navigation systems that use magnetic compasses, like those used by airplanes, can be more accurate and correct for the difference between the magnetic poles and the geographic ones.
The next update wasn’t supposed to happen until the end of 2019. But magnetic north has been moving at a rate of 31 miles a year since the last update in 2015 — faster than usual.
“The pole moved maybe about 1,000 kilometers [621 miles] between 1900 and 1990, and it’s also moved about 1,000 kilometers between the late 1990s and today, so it’s really sped up,” geomagnetic modeler William Brown explained to The Verge.
(See how far the pole has moved on this interactive map from NOAA.)
Geologists don’t really know why the North Pole is moving so quickly, or why its movements are so unpredictable.
But the answer may lie deep underground.
And it’s one of the essential geological features that allow life to survive on Earth.
That liquid iron generates a powerful magnetic field that surrounds our planet, which then protects us by deflecting life-killing radiation away from Earth’s surface.
Scientists suspect something’s happening in the outer core causing the rapid dash toward Siberia.
One hypothesis, as Nature explains, is that “the fast motion of the north magnetic pole could be linked to a high-speed jet of liquid iron beneath Canada.” That’s pretty rad.
You also don’t need to go deep underground, or into space, to witness the awesome phenomenon of the magnetic field.
It’s responsible for the beautiful aurorae, or northern and southern lights, in polar regions, as magnetism directs atomic particles from space to smash into our atmosphere near the poles.
And it’s fascinating to think of how one of the most immensely powerful forces shaping life on Earth — and helping us navigate it — is stirring in the depths beneath our feet.