Earth is constantly changing, shifting and making it challenging for scientists to understand exactly what is going on – let alone “why.” Check this out for instance: The geographic north pole is in the same place it always was, but its magnetic counterpart – indicated by the N on any compass – is roaming towards Siberia at record-breaking speeds that scientists don’t fully comprehend.
“Since its first formal discovery in 1831, the north magnetic pole has traveled around 1,400 miles (2,250 km),” the NOAA’s National Centres for Environmental Information (NCEI) explains on its website.
Now scientists know it is drifting towards Siberia in Russia and that the movement has slowed down to about 25 miles annually, but “the why of it”, remains an elusive mystery and it is a phenomenon scientists have never witnessed before.
“The movement since the 1990s is much faster than at any time for at least four centuries,” geomagnetic specialist Ciaran Beggan from the British Geological Survey (BGS).
Earth’s magnetic field doesn’t just give us our north and south poles; it’s also what protects us from solar winds and cosmic radiation – but this invisible force field is rapidly weakening, to the point, scientists think it could actually flip, with our magnetic poles reversing. See A Mysterious Anomaly Under Africa Is Radically Weakening Earth’s Magnetic Field
The Magnetic pole is essential to navigation, and therefore it’s drift is important for scientists to track and update its position. The military is keeping tabs on the WMM which is essential especially in the “Unreliable Zone” where compasses may become inaccurate. Below are two excerpts from NOAA’s National Centres for Environmental Information (NCEI) that explains.
Since Earth’s magnetic field is created by its moving, molten iron core, its poles aren’t stationary and they wander independently of each other. Since its first formal discovery in 1831, the north magnetic pole has traveled around 1,400 miles (2,250 km). This wandering has been generally quite slow, allowing scientists to keep track of its position fairly easily. Since the turn of the century, this speed has increased.
The WMM2020 forecasts that the northern magnetic pole will continue drifting toward Russia, although at a slowly decreasing speed—down to about 40 km per year compared to the average speed of 55 km over the past twenty years.
Uses of the WMM
The military uses the WMM for undersea and aircraft navigation, parachute deployment, and more. Other governmental organizations, such as NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration, U.S. Forest Service, and many more use the technology for surveying and mapping, satellite/antenna tracking, and air traffic management.
Airport runways are perhaps the most visible example of a navigation aid updated to match shifts in Earth’s magnetic field. Airports around the country use the data to give runways numerical names, which pilots refer to on the ground.