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article imageMagnetic North Pole has now crossed the Prime Meridian

By Karen Graham     Dec 29, 2019 in Science
Earth's magnetic north pole, which has been wandering faster than expected in recent years, has now crossed the prime meridian, based on the latest model of the Earth's magnetic field, released this month.
Magnetic north has been moving away from its home in the Canadian Arctic toward Siberia at a rate of about 34 miles (55 kilometers) a year over the past two decades. In February this year, the World Magnetic Model (WMM), finally got a much-needed update with the end of the extra-long U.S. government shutdown.
While updates to the WMM are normally issued every five years, the update earlier this year was needed because the changes were affecting compass apps, maps, and GPS services. The WMM is also the standard navigation tool for the Federal Aviation Administration, U.S. Department of Defense, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and much more.
The latest model of the Earth's magnetic field, released Dec. 10 by the National Centers for Environmental Information and the British Geological Survey, predicts that this movement will continue, though likely at a slower rate of 25 miles (40 kilometers) each year.
“It’s the fastest recorded shift seen since the mid-16th-century,” said Dr. Ciaran Beggan, a geophysicist at the British Geological Survey. “Magnetic records show the north magnetic pole has been meandering about Canada from 1590 until 1990 when it suddenly accelerated, gaining speed over the past 30 years, going from less than 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) per year to almost 60 kilometers (37 miles) per year.”
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As for the South Pole, it has been moving too, although at a slower speed. Magnetic south does not line up with the geographic south; it was at 64.13 S 136.02 E off the coast of Antarctica as of February 2019.
Based on the WMM 2020 coefficients for 2020 - the geomagnetic north pole is at 72.68°W longitude and 80.65°N latitude, and the geomagnetic south pole is at 107.32°E longitude and 80.65°S latitude.
Blackout Zones now included
This latest WMM also has something new - Blackout zones. Blackout zones around the magnetic poles are defined as areas around the north and south magnetic poles where compass accuracy is highly degraded.
The BoZ are regions around the north and south magnetic poles where the horizontal intensity of Earth’s magnetic field (H) is less than 2000 nT. In BoZs, WMM declination values are not accurate and compasses are unreliable. The BoZ around the pole between 2000 and 0nT is the “Unreliable Zone” where compasses may become inaccurate.
World Magnetic Model
Will the poles do a flip-flop?
Despite the conspiracy theorist rantings over the shifting poles causing a mass-extinction event, the only thing we know for sure is that the WMM is moving. Whether the Earth's magnetic fields will finally strengthen again, or lead to a reversal of the poles is unknown.
However, both events have happened in Earth's history without any notable effect on biology. However, modern navigation systems rely on the magnetic north and will have to be recalibrated as the poles continue to wander. Already, for example, airports have had to rename some of their runways, which have names based on compass directions.
More about Magnetic north pole, GPS readings, magnetometers, prime meridian, canadian arctic
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