The North Pole is moving (OMG, is that our fault, too?)

Most people don’t know that magnetic north is not the same as the North Pole itself; in fact, it moves! The implications for those who live in Canada (or up in those latitudes) and who are trying to find their way around in the woods by compass is interesting, don’t you think? So where was it when you were born?

Since the previous picture, the pole has continued its rapid move. From comes a new map.

According to the site:

It seemed to barely move until about 1904, when its position began to track northeastward about nine miles per year. The speed began to increase significantly in a northwesterly direction about 1998, and now averages about 37 miles each year. This means the pole will be located in northern Russia later this century if the movement and speed don’t change.

Air transportation uses magnetic compass directions for navigation, meaning airports are having to rename their runways as the shift continues.

The practical effect if this is described at

Runways are designated according to the points on a compass, and the drifting magnetic north means that they, periodically, need to be renamed.

“Recently, the drift has caused our runways’ orientations to be closer to the next increment on the magnetic compass,” Tampa International Airport spokeswoman Brenda Geoghagan told LiveScience in an e-mail.

For example, the west parallel runway, which was named 36Left —18Right to designate compass points of 360 degrees and 180 degrees, is being renamed to 1Left — 19Right, to indicate 10 degrees and 190 degrees, since the runway designations are separated into 10-degree increments.

Oh, and just in case you were curious, the south magnetic pole is moving as well, and since every magnetic field has two polarities, North and South, one might think that whatever is happening with one pole would be happening (in the inverse?) to it’s opposite pole.  In fact, the south pole is NOT behaving similarly, but is slowing down. Presently it’s only moving 3 miles (5 km) per year, only a tenth the speed of the north!

Its current location is 1,800 miles away from the geographic South Pole, in the Southern Ocean, at a latitude of 65° S, so far north that it’s not even in the Antarctic circle. The ocean-going magnetic South Pole is naturally unmarked, but if you happen to be there, you’ll know: Your compass needle will spin aimlessly. This pole moves over time too, albeit for a different reason. The earth’s magnetic field is in constant flux, responding to shifts in the flow of the earth’s liquid metal core. (


2 Comments (+add yours?)

    Aug 27, 2014 @ 19:36:33

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