Just in time for Christmas comes an update on a tale that could one day rival “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” … except this is a true story. A group of world organizations that keep track of Earth’s magnetic field for the governments, industries and private citizens who increasingly depend on it for global communications and navigation released its latest report on the magnetic North Pole and, while it’s good news for Siberia, it’s bad news for the rest of the world as the frozen north of Russia is moving closer to stealing the magnetic beacon for itself. Shouldn’t someone be holding a hearing about this?
“Smartphone and consumer electronics companies rely on the WMM to provide consumers with accurate compass apps, maps, and GPS services. The WMM is the also the standard navigation tool for the Federal Aviation Administration, U.S. Department of Defense, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and more.”
In a press release from the NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, the NCEI, the British Geological Survey and the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) announced the latest version of the World Magnetic Model (WMM), which is also a critical tool for NASA, the U.S. Forest Service and anyone doing surveying, mapping, satellite/antenna tracking and air traffic management. Throw in ‘using GPS to find the nearest pizza place’ and that covers just about everyone, which is why the rapid shift of the north magnetic pole to Siberia is disconcerting to many, apocalyptic to a few.
“The magnetic North Pole wandered slowly around northern Canada from 1590 to around 1990 and then accelerated over the past 20 years moving from around 10 km (6.2 miles) per year to over 50 km (31 miles) per year.”
Ciaran Beggan of the British Geological Survey explains one reason why scientists are watching the magnetic North Pole more closely than in the past. While the official report is made every five years with the latest just released, earlier this year the NCEI issued a “World Magnetic Model Out-of-Cycle Release” to highlight its concerns. While that one emphasized the speed of the shift to Siberia, the latest model points out that the pole has slowed slightly but has crossed a major checkpoint – the Greenwich (prime) meridian or longitude zero. Is this a big deal? Interesting Engineering says yes.
“Airport runways get their names from WMM data. By FAA rules, runways are numbered from 1 to 36 according to the points on a compass, reflecting magnetic compass readings to the nearest 10 degrees, and dropping the last digit. Runway numbers also convey the direction in which a plane is traveling. On a handheld compass, south is 180 degrees, which is 18 in runway designations, but if a plane is heading north, it is on runway 18–36.
Large airports that have parallel runways include other designators, such as L or R for the left or right runway. At Denver's International Airport (DIA), runway 17L–35R is currently magnetically oriented at 172.5°. However, when the magnetic pole's movement shifts another 4 degrees to 176°, that runway will become 18L–36R.”
And that’s just at airports. The same adjustments are being made (hopefully) by anyone using the magnetic North Pole for navigation. According to scientists, there’s nothing that can be done to stop this movement and it will eventually end with the poles being reversed, the magnetic field weakening and Earth suffering the effects of the loss of our protection against deadly cosmic rays. That won’t happen in our lifetime – or will it?
Finally, there’s the bragging rights over ownership of the pole. While governments are fighting over possession of the true North Pole now that the ice has melted year-round and the area is available for exploiting, Russia is already in possession of the magnetic North Pole. Haven’t they caused enough trouble?