Earth’s magnetic field is changing at such an unprecedented rate that geologists have had to remap it a year earlier than planned.
Our planet’s magnetic field probably isn’t something you think about very often. That’s fair enough really. Although it is all around us all of the time, it obviously isn’t something we can physically see. It plays a big role in a lot of aspects of our lives though, especially navigation. If it were to change or disappear entirely, we would be in serious trouble.
Well, that’s not entirely true. The Earth’s magnetic field is actually changing all the time. We’ve all heard of the magnetic North Pole, but did you know its position is constantly changing? The map below, courtesy of Nature, demonstrates exactly how much the magnetic North Pole has shifted over the course of the last century.
What is now worrying geologists who keep an eye on this sort of thing is how much the pole has shifted since 2015. Every five years, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration map out Earth’s magnetic field in what is called the World Magnetic Model. That was last done in 2015, so the next scheduled mapping isn’t until next year. However, the shift in the pole’s position has been so drastic that the mapping has been brought forward to now.
The most worrying thing about all of this is there is no real or definite explanation for this erratic behavior. There are a couple of things that likely contributed to it, though. Most notably, a huge magnetic pulse that was recorded beneath South America in 2016. Not only will that have contributed to the pole shift, but it came at the worst possible time, shortly after the last mapping of the planet’s magnetic field.
Although inexplicable, the accelerated shift of the magnetic North Pole’s movement is not something we need to worry about too much. If it were left to its own devices and not remapped, then those who use it for navigation could have issues. What we should be worrying about is when the magnetic poles switch places. That happens, on average, every 300,000 years, and it has been 781,000 years since it last happened, so the phenomenon is well overdue.