Earth’s magnetic field is what allows us to exist. It deflects harmful radiation. It keeps our water and atmosphere in place. But now it’s acting up — and nobody knows why.
News Corp Australia NetworkJanuary 10, 201910:53am
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Planet Earth is alive. Deep beneath its skin, its life blood — rivers of molten iron — pulse around its core. And this mobile iron is what generates the magnetic field that causes auroras — and keeps us alive.
It’s causing the magnetic North Pole to ‘skitter’ away from Canada, towards Siberia.
“The magnetic pole is moving so quickly that it has forced the world’s geomagnetism experts into a rare move,” Nature reports.
The World Magnetic Model — which governs modern navigation systems — will soon undergo an urgent update.
This model is a vital component of systems ranging from geopositioning systems used to navigate ships through to smartphone trackers and maps.
The current model was expected to be valid until 2020. But the magnetic pole began to shift so quickly, it was realised in 2018 that the model had to be fixed — now.
Every year, geophysicists from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the British Geological Survey do a check on how the Earth’s magnetic field is varying.
This is necessary as the liquid iron churning in the Earth’s core does not move in a consistent manner.
This shift was captured by satellites.
Earth has lines of magnetic force looping from North Pole to South Pole, creating Earth’s protective magnetosphere. The straight line coming out of the North and South Poles represents Earth’s axis of rotation.Source:Supplied
The movement of the north magnetic pole has been the object of study since 1831. Initially, it was tracked moving into the Arctic Ocean at a rate of about 15km each year. But, since the mid 1990s, it has picked up speed.
It’s now shifting at a rate of about 55km a year.
But another recent study has revealed the Earth’s magnetic field has been acting up now for some 1000 years.
CORE OF THE MATTER
Why the magnetic field is shifting so dramatically is unknown.
“Geomagnetic pulses, like the one that happened in 2016, might be traced back to ‘hydromagnetic’ waves arising from deep in the core,” Nature reports. “And the fast motion of the north magnetic pole could be linked to a high-speed jet of liquid iron beneath Canada”.
This fast-flowing molten river appears to be weakening the magnetic influence of the iron core beneath North America.
And, as global warming opens up more shipping lanes to the north of Russia and Canada, this presents a potentially deadly problem. “The fact that the pole is going fast makes this region more prone to large errors,” Nature quotes Arnaud Chulliat, a geomagnetist at the University of Colorado Boulder and NOAA, as saying