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Earth's Magnetic North Pole Continues Drifting, Crosses Prime Meridian

Earth’s magnetic field protects us from the solar wind by deflecting the charged particles.
Earth’s magnetic field protects us from the solar wind by deflecting the charged particles.
(Image: © Shutterstock)

Earth's magnetic north pole, which has been wandering faster than expected in recent years, has now crossed the prime meridian

Magnetic north has been lurching away from its previous home in the Canadian Arctic toward Siberia at a rate of about 34 miles (55 kilometers) a year over the past two decades. The latest model of the Earth's magnetic field, released Dec. 10 by the National Centers for Environmental Information and the British Geological Survey, predicts that this movement will continue, though likely at a slower rate of 25 miles (40 km) each year. 

This model is used to calibrate GPS and other navigation measurements. 

Earth's magnetic field is produced by the churning of the planet's iron outer core, which produces a complex, but largely north-south magnetic field. For reasons not entirely understood but related to the planet's interior dynamics, the magnetic field is currently undergoing a period of weakening. That's why magnetic north is drifting

As of February 2019, magnetic north was located at 86.54 N 170.88 E, within the Arctic Ocean, according to the NCEI. (Magnetic south similarly does not line up with geographic south; it was at at 64.13 S 136.02 E off the coast of Antarctica as of February 2019.) 

Scientists release a new version of the World Magnetic Model every five years, so this 2020 update was expected. In February 2019, though, they had to release an update ahead of schedule due to the fast clip of magnetic north's movements. The 2020 model shows the "Blackout Zone" around magnetic north where compasses become unreliable and start to fail because of the proximity of true north. The new maps also show magnetic north east of the prime meridian, a boundary the pole crossed in September 2019, according to Newsweek. The prime, or Greenwich, meridian is the meridian that was set as the official marker of zero degrees, zero minutes and zero seconds in 1884;iIt runs through the Royal Observatory at Greenwich in England. 

Related: What If Earth's Magnetic Poles Flip?

It's currently unclear whether Earth's magnetic poles are headed for a flip-flop — switching north and south — or whether the magnetic field will soon strengthen again. Both events have happened in Earth's history without any notable effect on biology. However, modern navigation systems rely on magnetic north and will have to be recalibrated as the poles continue to wander. Already, for example, airports have had to rename some of their runways, which have names based on compass directions. 

Originally published on Live Science.

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  • Nelson
    I have seen this said in different places that, the earth is a magnet due to
    it's molten iron core.
    In working with metals, I have observed that iron , heated to temperatures
    over red hot are not magnetic which I figured must be due to the total
    molecular incoherence which is required for magnets.
    Reply
  • Mr.J
    Maybe there is one huge giant crazy alloy down in the earths guts that makes the north pole magnetic,maybe its moving within the earth liek a bearing.
    Reply
  • Mike E
    Nelson said:
    I have seen this said in different places that, the earth is a magnet due to
    it's molten iron core.
    In working with metals, I have observed that iron , heated to temperatures
    over red hot are not magnetic which I figured must be due to the total
    molecular incoherence which is required for magnets.
    Nelson, I agree. Personally, I do not think the core is Iron. I think it is another material. I would guess it is a yet unknown state of matter. I call it a Super Heated Hyperpressurized Solid. In this state, matter wants to liquify but it cannot because of compression. I would imagine that this does not happen at the core but rather two thirds of the way down to the core. Logically pressure at the core should be zero. I also believe that the core may be metallic hydrogen that is created from this state instead of being found in its normal cryogenic state. ... I also believe that one of the properties of superpressurized solids is that they convert energy into physical matter. We see this in plants but through a different mechanism. ... We as men know only how to create energy from matter via destruction. However, the universe itself must be based on energy to matter conversion. We should see this repeated all over the cosmos. ... The Sun is at a scale where gravity mass causes hydrogen to convert to energy, but the particle energy is able to escape. ... If all this is true then it would align with Abiotic oil theory, where oil is produced by a combination of carbon and hydrogen molecules deep in the earths core. .... This is why so many oil deposits are so far down.
    Reply
  • kh99
    I think you mean that it crossed the international date line.

    Edit: To clarify, the Newsweek article mentioned in this article talks about how the zero declination line crossed the prime meridian, causing compasses in England to point east of true north instead of west as they have for a long time. However, if you read carefully you'll see that this occurred because the magnetic north pole moved over the 180 degree longitude line, not the prime meridian (which is of course the 0 degree longitude line).
    Reply
  • MaineIdea
    "This model is used to calibrate GPS and other navigation measurements. "

    What impact does the magnetic north have on GPS calibration???
    Reply
  • NullStir
    The earth functions like a magnet AND a battery. When you get to the size of our planet, magnetic/gravitational/energy forces behave differently then they do at a smaller scale. The polar caps function like the top and bottom (positive/negative) parts on a battery AND a magnet. Energy flows to/from each end to create our solar wind shield. I won't try to explain it all, but the movement of the molten stuff in the core, against exterior land creates a ton of charge in all the particles, not just the metal. The water covering the majority of our planet and the moon pulling that water to and fro creates further charge with tides, rivers, etc. There is also the daily heating/cooling experienced by the rotation of the planet (but less on the white snow caps), and the yearly rotation around the sun, in addition to the wobble motion through the seasons. Think about how much energy you get in a handhel gyroscope or spinning top, then amplify/multiple it with all the forces above. That energy has to go somewhere! Not to mention all the Hydrogen locked up in the water.

    Beware however, if the magnetic sheath drops, that water (Hyrdogen) will be very swiftly dispatched and vaporized and absorbed in to space and by our sun! Venus was tipped on its side, possibly due to one of the poles melting, and Mars had its water stripped way, quite possibly for similar reasons.

    When someone said out planet has Goldilocks conditions for life, I wonder if people truly understand the amazing rarity and fragility of it all. The fact that our planet exists in its current wonderful form is such a high odd lottery, and we WON! Yet the fruits of that win are being squandered away, because we are continuing to tinker with it's inner workings and disrupt it's gentle balance from within. Man is VERY powerful now, in aggregate - and it's about time we woke up and realized that collective power and took charge of it, instead of walking around like Deer's in the headlights.

    The earth is already bound to one day be pulled in by the sun and become one, we certainly do not need to expedite that process and prematurely liberate all the energy on our rock. Energy has a will, and it wants to be free, we need to recognize that force, and take charge of it. I hate to say it - but Elon Musk is one of few people I can think of that truly understands what's going on. We need to buy ourselves some time, and get to 100% sustainability, and focus on expanding our horizons beyond this planet to create hope for the future of humanity.

    Wake up folks, the internet has the capability to help us solve our scaling/greed/growth issues, let's get after it. The time for a new Sustainability Currency is NOW. It's time to re-engineer our society and build a NEW American dream that EVERYONE can aspire to. Zero Carbon, Sustainability, Automation, Shortened Work Hours, Better Quality of Living, and more time for collective growth and development of humanity and our knowledge, and most importantly, more time for FUN!

    We can do this. But the existing power structure and greedy money influence has to stop. We will in-fight our way to oblivion if the Sociopath 1% don't start taking bold action. The people are figuring things out, and the current prolonged economic stagnation period should be all the indication necessary that change is coming.

    Hoowah.
    Reply
  • KMacK
    Providing a map showing the current, recent past, and projected future locations of the Geomagnetic North pole would have helped the article a great deal. As it was I had to open Google Earth to get an idea of where and how it's moving.
    While this is-so far-more a thing of curiosity, a follow-on piece in-depth of what could happen to Earth should the poles flip and how fast this flip might occur would help to clarify any potential risks we might face should this thing happen.
    One major occurrence I can envision is the sudden creation of an industry replacing compass cards or reversing the "motor" magnets (usually two or three highly magnetized alloy rods) connected either to the card or needle of a magnetic compass. Pocket compasses could be re-magnetized but cased compasses would need minor surgery to return to proper operation.
    Reply
  • KMacK
    Nelson said:
    I have seen this said in different places that, the earth is a magnet due to
    it's molten iron core.
    In working with metals, I have observed that iron , heated to temperatures
    over red hot are not magnetic which I figured must be due to the total
    molecular incoherence which is required for magnets.
    Molten Iron core + moving semi-solid mantle = dynamic generator = electro-magnetic force. Yes, the core is molten but the emf is generated in the mantle which is (mostly) solid.
    Reply
  • KMacK
    kh99 said:
    I think you mean that it crossed the international date line.

    Edit: To clarify, the Newsweek article mentioned in this article talks about how the zero declination line crossed the prime meridian, causing compasses in England to point east of true north instead of west as they have for a long time. However, if you read carefully you'll see that this occurred because the magnetic north pole moved over the 180 degree longitude line, not the prime meridian (which is of course the 0 degree longitude line).
    A simple map graphic would have eliminated the misunderstanding.
    Reply
  • NullStir
    KMacK said:
    Providing a map showing the current, recent past, and projected future locations of the Geomagnetic North pole would have helped the article a great deal. As it was I had to open Google Earth to get an idea of where and how it's moving.
    While this is-so far-more a thing of curiosity, a follow-on piece in-depth of what could happen to Earth should the poles flip and how fast this flip might occur would help to clarify any potential risks we might face should this thing happen.
    One major occurrence I can envision is the sudden creation of an industry replacing compass cards or reversing the "motor" magnets (usually two or three highly magnetized alloy rods) connected either to the card or needle of a magnetic compass. Pocket compasses could be re-magnetized but cased compasses would need minor surgery to return to proper operation.

    You "lose" a pole, and life as we know it gets pretty horrific. Think very carefully about what unfiltered cosmic rays and the suns radiation will do to the very delicate life on this fish tank. And I do mean fish tank, without some degree of moisture basically everywhere, NOTHING would survive. Heck, the insect and birds are already dropping like....flies! And that's just from 100ish years of modifying the parts per million balance in the atmosphere by pulling up locked away organic carbon and burning it.

    Ever wonder what that big Hexagon on Saturn is? Look no further than the rings. That's the where the debris accumulated after the asteroid struck and created Saturns new pole. Saturn is still in recovery from that event.

    The reality is, whatever created all this, it sure did cut us one heck of a break. All the answers we need to all our most difficult questions are right here in our own backyard folks. Think: Serendipity. Everything is with purpose and this is all here for a reason. The universe always lends a hands and helps point you in the right direction, but you DO have to act on that advice/information!

    Think critically, look at how AMAZINGLY hostile every other planet/body is in our solar system. Life as we know it simply doesn't stand much chance of anything more than a brief visit. Given the basic mathematics, you'd think mankind would WAKE UP and start treating this fragile flower we call Earth like the lady she truly is.
    Reply