Although the magnetic north pole has always been in motion, scientists say that lately it has been moving much faster than before. Normally, scientists with the World Magnetic Model update its physical location every five years. The last update was done in 2015, but because of the significant shift in location since then, an update has just been issued, a year early.
Canada has been home to the magnetic north pole for centuries, meandering about at an average pace of about 55 kilometres a year. It crossed the International Date Line at the end of 2017, and is now on its way to Russia.
“It’s clear that something strange is happening,” University of Leeds geophysicist Phil Livermore told the New York Times. Scientists are also speculating whether this recent phenomenon is an indication that a magnetic pole reversal is imminent. “It does tick off some of the boxes of magnetic reversal,” said University of Liverpool geophysicist Courtney Sprain. “However,” she added “we definitely can’t say that for sure.” The last time magnetic pole reversal occurred was about 780,000 years ago.
As pilots we know there are implications with a rapidly shifting pole, as there are for others who rely on a magnetic compass as a backup navigation instrument, such as seafarers.
Among the effects a rapidly shifting north magnetic pole can have in the short term on Canadian aviation include accelerated updates to aeronautical publications and the renaming (and repainting) of runways, depending on the path the wandering pole takes.
Another effect that is bound to disappoint Canadian sky-watchers over time is the diminishing aurora borealis, or northern lights, since they are centred around the north magnetic pole.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a U.S. government agency, has a website that allows visitors to visualize how magnetic declination has changed over the years.
Switching over to using true north in aeronautics has been under discussion for many years and would certainly simplify our lives, but we are not there yet while so many elements still rely on the magnetic one.