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Is The North Pole Moving? Should We Be Concerned?

By Sophie – on in News, Environment

Put in a call to Santa… the North Pole really is moving!

Actually, you can sit down, it has always been on the move.

In fact, you may be surprised to hear that there are two poles in the North, and they are both eternally on the move.

So what’s all the fuss about the magnetic North Pole moving?

The Globe’s Protective Bubble

The magnetic North Pole is a virtual entity that is created by the Earth’s surrounding magnetic field. The best way to think of the magnetic field as a large magnet that serves the purpose of protecting the Earth against damaging solar winds.

Anyone who knows a thing or two about magnets will be aware that negative side of one magnet will be attracted to the positive side of another. A traditional compass operates in very much the same way. The magnet in the compass is attracted to the magnetic North Pole, no matter where in the world you are. Traditionally, we have perceived the magnetic North to be somewhere located at the top of the globe.

Moving Magnetic Forces

Over the course of the last 100 years, “north” has been gradually shifting position at a rate of approximately 30 miles a year. This has far more serious consequences than simply throwing your compass out. It has caused major issues for the military and the transport industry, both of which run their operations according to a pinpoint accuracy that is determined by global positioning satellites (GPS). However, every time the magnetic north moves, this throws out the accuracy of GPSs. In fact, this has become so much of an issue that the US military has formally requested the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to update the World Magnetic Model that guides GPS systems. While this model is traditionally updated on a five-year basis, the military have seen fit to request an updated version earlier than planned.

Alarming “jerks”

Geologists postulate that the magnetic field that surrounds the Earth is the result of the nickel and iron seas that sit on the planet’s outer core, approximately 1800 miles below the surface. These deposits are continually moving and interacting with each other. As they do so, they change the polarity of the Earth’s magnetic field. While the majority of the time these changes take place gradually, they can also unexpectedly occur in spasms, comparable to the way earthquakes hit.

Recently, scientists Julien Aubert and Christopher Finlay fed four million hours’ data pertaining to magnetic field changes with the underlying objective of attempting to identify how the spasmodic changes take place. They were able to explain that gradual movements are the result of the emission of heat from the Earth. As this heat becomes closer to the outer core, it modifies the metals that impact the magnetosphere. However, sometimes, the core’s pockets of liquid iron can become substantially hotter than the material that surrounds them. These pockets rapidly rise to the surface and this results in an abrupt “jerk” in the magnetic field that Aubert compared to “vibrating strings of a musical instrument.”

Our ever-evolving Earth

According to some pessimists, the Earth is facing a major crisis and we could witness a complete pole reversal through which the South and North poles completely switch places. This would, by no means, be something the globe hasn’t previously encountered… in fact, it takes place every million years or so. Granted, some destruction would be expected. However, claims that the magnetic field will completely disappear, leaving the Earth exposed to lethal radiation, seem somewhat unfounded—last time the poles switched, around 750,000 years ago—the outcome was a mere 30% loss of magnetic field.

But even if we are not necessarily destined for a disastrous change in the Earth’s magnetic protection, there is no doubt that the movement of the North Pole is having a noticeable effect on one of the Earth’s natural wonders: the Northern Lights. As a result of the magnetic North Pole shifting at a rate of 30 miles a year, scientists predict that this product of the Globe’s magnetic field is also shifting and will soon be the clearest over Siberia.

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Sophie

Sophie holds a bachelor's degree in biology. She has always been passionate about literature and writing, which is why she likes to write scientific articles for Get-Science whenever she has the opportunity. Although her favourite subject is biology (of course!), she is also interested in astronomy as well as the environment.