Earth’s magnetic fields are shifting – and scientists are unsure why.
Researchers say the magnetic North Pole is ‘skittering’ away from Canada, towards Siberia.
The problem has got so bad, researchers around the world are scrambling to update a global model of the fields.
Called the World Magnetic Model, it underlies all modern navigation, from the systems that steer ships at sea to Google Maps on smartphones.
Impact on World Magnetic Model:
The problem has got so bad, researchers around the world are scrambling to update a global model of the fields. Called the World Magnetic Model, it underlies all modern navigation, from the systems that steer ships at sea to Google Maps on smartphones.
WHY ARE THE EARTH’S MAGNETIC FIELDS MOVING?
The problem lies partly with the moving pole and partly with other shifts deep within the planet.
Liquid churning in Earth’s core generates most of the magnetic field, which varies over time as the deep flows change.
In 2016, for instance, part of the magnetic field temporarily accelerated deep under northern South America and the eastern Pacific Ocean. Satellites such as the European Space Agency’s Swarm mission tracked the shift.
WHAT IS THE WORLD MAGNETIC MODEL?
The charts, known as the World Magnetic Model (WMM), are used to convert between compass measurements of magnetic north and true north and can be found in the navigation systems of ships and airplanes as well as geological applications (such as drilling and mining).
The WMM is also part of map applications in smartphones, including the Google Maps App.
Researchers from the U.S.’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) maintain the WMM.
WHAT COULD HAPPEN TO EARTH IF ITS POLES FLIPPED?
Scientists in recent years have predicted that Earth’s magnetic field could be gearing up to ‘flip’ – a shift in which the magnetic south pole would become magnetic north, and vice versa. Such an event could have catastrophic effects, wreaking havoc on the electric grid and leaving life at the surface exposed to higher amounts of solar radiation.
Electric grid collapse from severe solar storms is a major risk. As the magnetic field continues to weaken, scientists are highlighting the importance off-the-grid energy systems using renewable energy sources to protect the Earth against a blackout.
Very highly charged particles can have a deleterious effect on the satellites and astronauts.
The Earth’s climate could also change. A recent Danish study has found that the earth’s weather has been significantly affected by the planet’s magnetic field.