The World Magnetic Model (WMM) enables compasses to point north and is used in navigation systems. Its latest update revealed the North Magnetic Pole is wandering about 34 miles a year. It crossed the international dateline in 2017 and is leaving the Canadian Arctic on its way to Siberia.
This is causing a navigational nightmare for compasses in smartphones, boats and for airport navigators as well as in some consumer electronics, and WMM was forced to update a year early in order to keep it accurate.
WMM provides a five year forecast of changes to the Earth’s magnetic field. The US and UK tend to update the location of the North Magnetic Pole every five years in December, but this update came early because of the pole’s faster movement.
It had been hoped that the updated model could be released even earlier, last month, but it was held up by the recent shutdown in the US government, which oversees the project along with the British Geological Survey in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Turbulence in in the planet’s core, where the motion generates an electric field, has caused the field to change in systems described as ‘akin to weather’.
Airplanes and boats also rely on magnetic north, usually as backup navigation, said University of Colorado geophysicist Dr Arnaud Chulliat, lead author of the WMM.
The military depends on where magnetic north is for navigation and parachute drops, while NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration and US Forest Service also use it. GPS is not affected because it’s satellite-based.
Passengers arriving on a Delta flight from San Francisco to John F. Kennedy International Airport on Wednesday night were asked by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials to produce identification as they exited the plane.
The request—in the context of sweeping changes to U.S. immigration policies under the administration of President Donald Trump—was met with confusion, alarm and speculation by some passengers.