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The North Pole Is Rapidly Shifting Position And Moving Towards Russia

Jess Hardiman

| Last updated 

The North Pole Is Rapidly Shifting Position And Moving Towards Russia

The Earth’s magnetic north pole – the point at which all compasses point to – is rapidly shifting position, according to scientists

While the magnetic north pole has been moving ever since its position was first plotted by British explorer James Clark Ross in 1831, experts believe the speed of its movement has increased in recent decades. 

In a 2020 paper published in the scientific journal Nature Geoscience, researchers Philip W. Livermore, Christopher C. Finlay and Matthew Bayliff said: “The wandering of Earth’s north magnetic pole, the location where the magnetic field points vertically downwards, has long been a topic of scientific fascination.” 

The authors went on to explain that ever since the first ‘in situ measurements in 1831 of its acceleration in the Canadian arctic’, the pole has drifted ‘inexorably’ towards Siberia. 

Credit: Alamy
Credit: Alamy

It accelerated between 1990 and 2005 from its historic speed of 0-15km per year to its present speed of 50-60km per year - having crossed the international date line in late October 2017, passing within 390 km of the geographic pole. 

Now the north pole is moving southwards, making its way towards the Russian province of Siberia. 

“Over the last two decades the position of the north magnetic pole has been largely determined by two large-scale lobes of negative magnetic flux on the core–mantle boundary under Canada and Siberia,” the authors said, explaining how localised modelling shows that the elongation of the Canadian lobe – likely caused by an ‘alteration in the pattern of core flow between 1970 and 1999’ - substantially weakened its signature on Earth’s surface, in turn causing the pole to accelerate towards Siberia. 

Credit: European Space Agency
Credit: European Space Agency

They predicted that, over the next decade, the north magnetic pole will continue on its current trajectory, travelling ‘a further 390-660km towards Siberia’. 

At the time the study was published, one of the study’s authors, Phil Livermore - from the University of Leeds - told EarthSky: “By analysing magnetic field maps and how they change over time, we can now pinpoint that a change in the circulation pattern of flow underneath Canada has caused a patch of magnetic field at the edge of the core, deep within the Earth, to be stretched out. 

"This has weakened the Canadian patch and resulted in the pole shifting towards Siberia.” 

Credit: European Space Agency
Credit: European Space Agency

He added that the biggest question is whether or not the pole will ever return to Canada or continue moving south. 

“Models of the magnetic field inside the core suggest that, at least for the next few decades, the pole will continue to drift towards Siberia,” he said. 

“However, given that the pole’s position is governed by this delicate balance between the Canadian and Siberian patch, it would take only a small adjustment of the field within the core to send the pole back to Canada.” 

The European Space Agency previously said that it was important to ensure the World Magnetic Model was updated periodically to reflect the pole’s current location. 

"The model is vital for many navigation systems used by ships, Google maps and smartphones, for example,” it said in a statement. 

Featured Image Credit: Alamy

Topics: Science

Jess Hardiman
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