Check your compass: The North pole is on the move

The magnetic north pole is wandering about 34 miles a year. At the end of 2017 it crossed the international date lin

The north magnetic pole has been drifting so fast that it could be a problem for smartphone maps and navigation systems. The Earth behaves like a giant bar magnet - well, nearly - and this behaviour defines its magnetic north and south poles, which are not static.

Magnetic north is now moving more than 34 miles per year, up from just seven miles throughout the mid 1900s. It crossed the worldwide date line in 2017, and is leaving the Canadian Arctic on its way to Siberia.

The U.S.' National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said in a statement Monday that scientists had updated the World Magnetic Model, used by smartphone and consumer electronics for maps and Global Positioning System services, ahead of time to account for unplanned changes in the Earth's magnetic field. Airplanes and boats also rely on magnetic north, usually as backup navigation, said University of Colorado geophysicist Arnaud Chulliat, lead author of the newly issued World Magnetic Model.

"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 US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Center for Environmental Information wrote in a press release.

"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", said NOAA in a news release on February 4.

"We've updated the model on a five-year cycle, because in the past, that's the average amount time it takes for the errors to become too large", Chulliat said. The magnetic field changes due to unpredictable flows of the Earth's molten core.

For example, airport runway names are based on their direction toward magnetic north and their names change when the poles move.

The origin of Earth's magnetism lies in its outer core, a more than 2,000-km layer of liquid iron and some other metals like nickel, that surrounds the central core, or the innermost part.

Scientists have now realised the pace of this movement has suddenly increased, quite significantly, from about 14-15 km per year till the 1990s to about 55 km per year in the last few years.

"It's not a question of if it's going to reverse, the question is when it's going to reverse", Lathrop said. The last time it so happened, with the magnetic north pole getting somewhere near where the magnetic south pole now is, was about 780,000 years ago.

Lathrop sees a flip coming sooner rather than later because of the weakened magnetic field and an area over the South Atlantic has already reversed beneath Earth's surface. Smartphone users also rely on WMM data for accurate compass apps, maps, and Global Positioning System.

Earth's magnetic field has been slowly changing throughout its existence.

As the system is used in modern technology, our mapping systems could be affected. Now the WMM has been updated, researchers are working to understand the changes.

'Our war fighters use magnetics to orient their maps.

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