Though it is not uncommon for Earth’s magnetic poles to wander several kilometers every year, geologists can’t explain this recent phenomenon.
Has technology been on the fritz for you lately? If so, you’re not alone. Unfortunately, we don’t have many theories as to why, other than that the Earth’s magnetic poles are up to mischief — again.
According to a news report in Nature, the magnetic North Pole appears to be slipping away from Canada and towards Siberia at an erratic rate. Though it is not uncommon for Earth’s magnetic poles to wander several kilometers every year, geologists can’t explain this recent phenomenon.
“The location of the north magnetic pole appears to be governed by two large-scale patches of magnetic field, one beneath Canada and one beneath Siberia,” said Phil Livermore, a geomagnetist at the University of Leeds in the UK, at the latest American Geophysical Union meeting. “The Siberian patch is winning the competition.”
The planet’s magnetic field is created by molten iron in its core that swirls around through convection currents. The situation results in a complex pattern of magnetism which, as you might imagine, often proves difficult to model and predict.
In 2016, an unusually strong geomagnetic pulse occurred under South America. The occurrence is believed to have contributed to the recent changes underneath Canada. However, geologists still don’t know why the magnetic field below the North American country is weakening.
Ordinarily, data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) would provide insight to this situation. But, due to the recent government shutdown, the World Magnetic Model (WMM), which is released every five years, has been postponed until at least January 30th.
Because the magnetic field is central to many forms of navigation, there is a possibility that Earth’s shifting magnetic poles could affect everything from a small compass to a more advanced system of navigation. Hopefully, this isn’t the case; however, geologists are on the lookout.
The last theory as to why Earth’s poles may be shifting relates to the phenomenon known as a “geomagnetic reversal.” Essentially, this is when magnetic poles literally switch sides. It is believed to have occurred every 20,000-30,000 years over the past 20 million years.