Earth's north magnetic pole shuffles around, puzzles scientists

By Vignesh Giridharan | Published on Jan 15 2019
Earth's north magnetic pole shuffles around, puzzles scientists

Geologists believe that a high-speed jet of liquid iron flowing beneath Canada could be cause for the north magnetic pole’s dancing around.

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  • The magnetic north pole is shifting around more quickly than predicted.
  • This is forcing the World Magnetic Model to be revised more frequently.
  • The ongoing US government shutdown is slowing the release of the next model.


The World Magnetic Model is a spatial-scale diagrammatic representation of the Earth’s magnetic field. It consists of a degree-12 spherical harmonic model of the Earth’s magnetic field (MF). Updated every five years, the most recent model (WMM2015) came out in December 2014 and was supposed to be effective till 2020. But there’s a problem—the Earth’s north magnetic pole has been shifting around so much of late that a five-year interval is suddenly too long for accurate reference. The model is simply begging to be updated more frequently.

The problem doesn’t stop there. The revised model, which was due for a January 15 launch, is facing a delay in release after the US government shut down indefinitely last month. According to a recent report by Nature on the matter, the revised model will be released by the U.S. National Geophysical Data Center (NGDC) in collaboration with the British Geological Survey (BGS) on January 30.

According to geologists, who are still trying to understand why the magnetic pole is shifting around so much, ‘hydromagnetic’ waves sprouting from the planet’s core could be a major cause. The fast motion of the north magnetic pole could be connected to a high-speed jet of liquid iron flowing beneath Canada, which is believed to be weakening the magnetic field.

“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, at the American Geophysical Union meeting. “he Siberian patch is winning the competition.” All this points to a busy year for geologists. But things seem dicey for the world of science in general right now because of the federal government’s recent shutdown.


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Vignesh Giridharan

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