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Feeling a little off-kilter in the early weeks of 2019? Well, so is Earth’s magnetic pole—and it’s been feeling like that for a while. Because of how much and how quickly the pole is moving, geologists are updating the model they use to predict where it will go next a year ahead of schedule. Given that everything from your cell phone’s mapping feature to ships traversing the ocean and airplanes in the sky rely on this prediction, known as the World Magnetic Model, it’s worth paying attention to.
“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,” reports Alexandra Witze for Nature. The model is necessary because actually finding where magnetic north is right now is difficult—the places where it can be found are remote, and it moves a lot.
Arctic - Antarctic - Explorer - James - Ross
Since first documented in 1831 by British Arctic and Antarctic explorer James Ross Clark, the magnetic pole has moved around a lot, vacillating between parts of Canada’s far north and Siberia.
In Ye Olden Times, as Randall Munroe of the webcomic XKCD notes, seafaring vessels relied on magnetic north—which their compasses were drawn to—to navigate around the globe in small, vulnerable, disconnected wooden boats. Although compasses existed as far back as the late 1200s, according to the Geological Survey of Canada, users believed they pointed to a gigantic magnetic mountain in the far North.
Mountain - Pole - Discovery - Declination - Compass
“It was generally assumed that the magnetic mountain was located at the geographic pole, so the discovery of magnetic declination, that the compass does not point true north, posed a problem which was solved by placing the magnetic mountain some distance from the geographic pole,” reports the GSC. But that didn’t explain why the pole seemed...
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