North Pole shifting

The north pole is shifting and very rapidly. A storm is raging in the centre of the Earth. Nearly 2,000 miles beneath our feet, in the swirling, spinning ball of liquid iron that forms our planet’s core and generates its magnetic field, a jet has formed, roiling the molten material beneath the Arctic.

This geological gust is enough to send Earth’s magnetic North Pole skittering across the globe. The place to which a compass needle points is shifting toward Siberia at a pace of 30 miles a year.

Due to the political storm in Washington, scientists have been unable to post an emergency update of the World Magnetic Model, which cellphone GPS systems and military navigators use to orient themselves. Roughly half the employees at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which hosts the model and publishes related software, are helpless because of the partial government shutdown, now in its 27th day.

A five-year update of a World Magnetic Model was due in 2020 but the U.S. military requested an unprecedented early review. The recent shifts in the north magnetic pole would be unnoticed by most people outside the Arctic, for instance using smartphones in New York, Beijing or London. It would have been a minor change for most of us — the discrepancy between the model and the North Pole’s new location is measurable only to people trying to navigate precisely and at extremely high latitudes (near the Arctic). University of Leeds geophysicist Phil Livermore says, “We’ve sent robots to Mars and put people on the moon, but we don’t really have an idea of what’s going on in the interior of our planet. It’s really an exploration into the unknown.”

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