Magnetic north pole is drifting fast; military, NASA, airports, birds are affected

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More than anything, the shift of the Magnetic North Pole affects navigation systems containing magnetic compasses. The military uses the WMM for undersea and aircraft navigation, parachute deployment, and more. The point is moving approximately 55km every year and in 2017 it moved past the worldwide date line, the point of longitude in the middle of the Pacific Ocean that is the crossing point between 11.59pm on one day and 12am on the next.

Earth's northern magnetic pole is moving at an unexpectedly fast rate towards Siberia.

The version released Monday is a bridge to the new 2020 update, which will still be rolled out at the beginning of next year.

Global Positioning System isn't affected because it's satellite-based, but airplanes and boats also rely on magnetic north, usually as backup navigation, said University of Colorado geophysicist Arnaud Chulliat, lead author of the newly issued WMM.

The World Magnetic Model impacts many operations, including military undersea navigation, space missions, smartphone Global Positioning System services, and airport runways.

Airport runway names are also based on their direction toward magnetic north and their names change when the poles moved. For example, the airport in Fairbanks, Alaska, renamed a runway 1L-19R to 2L-20R in 2009.

Magnetic north has moved about 1,367 miles (2,200 kilometers) north and west since it was first pinpointed in Canada's Nunavut territory in 1831.

This phenomenon was first observed in 1831 when the speed of such shift was just 9mph however, after the year 2000 it has changed to 34 miles per hour.

The update will help navigation services that rely on the World Magnetic Model to calibrate users' geolocation data, the NOAA said.

The reason which scientists trace back to this shift is the turbulence in Earth's outer core.

The NOAA said Earth's magnetic field changes because of "unpredictable flows in Earth's core".

As for what's causing the dramatic increase in movement, scientists say it could be down to a jet stream in the earth's core, which has weakened part of the moving currents, pushing it towards Siberia. While having occurred a number of times in Earth's history, the last time such an event occurred was nearly 800,000 years ago.

'It's not a question of if it's going to reverse, the question is when it's going to reverse, ' Dr Lathrop said. Other animals like cows can sense the Earth's magnetic field, and they position themselves towards a magnetic pole while grazing.

"The magnetic field (changes) continuously, but it is partly because of its natural behaviour", he added.

The planet's magnetic field is generated almost 2,000 miles beneath our feet, in the swirling, spinning ball of molten metal that forms Earth's core. The magnetic field shields Earth from some risky radiation, Lathrop said.

Why it matters: An unpredictable magnetic north is making it hard for high accuracy navigation systems to remain fully functional.

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