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Magnetic north pole changing fast, scientist can't react thanks to Trump's shutdown

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Staff Writer |
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World   Navigation as we know it could be in jeopardy

Something strange is going on at the top of the world. Earth’s north magnetic pole has been skittering away from Canada and towards Siberia, driven by liquid iron sloshing within the planet’s core.

The magnetic pole is moving so quickly that it has forced the world’s geomagnetism experts into a rare move, an article in Nature states.

Navigation as we know it could be in jeopardy but scientists who were set to release a new World Magnetic Model on January 15 are not able to do that because the US government shutdown has stopped them for now. The release of the World Magnetic Model has been postponed to 30 January because, of course, all relevant scientists and bodies must be present.

The most recent version of the model came out in 2015 and was supposed to last until 2020 — but the magnetic field is changing so rapidly that researchers have to fix the model now.

“The error is increasing all the time,” says Arnaud Chulliat, a geomagnetist at the University of Colorado Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) National Centers for Environmental Information.

The problem lies partly with the moving pole and partly with other shifts deep within the planet.

Liquid churning in Earth’s core generates most of the magnetic field, which varies over time as the deep flows change.

In 2016, for instance, part of the magnetic field temporarily accelerated deep under northern South America and the eastern Pacific Ocean. Satellites such as the European Space Agency’s Swarm mission tracked the shift.

By early 2018, the World Magnetic Model was in trouble. Researchers from NOAA and the British Geological Survey in Edinburgh had been doing their annual check of how well the model was capturing all the variations in Earth’s magnetic field.

They realized that it was so inaccurate that it was about to exceed the acceptable limit for navigational errors.

The jet seems to be smearing out and weakening the magnetic field beneath Canada, Phil Livermore, a geomagnetist at the University of Leeds, UK, said at the American Geophysical Union meeting. And that means that Canada is essentially losing a magnetic tug-of-war with Siberia.

“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,” Livermore says. “The Siberian patch is winning the competition.”

Which means that the world’s geomagnetists will have a lot to keep them busy for the foreseeable future.


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