True North is moving about 60 kilometres a year

Share this article: FacebooktwitterlinkedinFacebooktwitterlinkedin

Earth’s magnetic pole is on the move, fast. And we don’t know why

Scientists search for the reason for the movement

Change requires that runways be renamed to reflect the new readings

  Earth’s magnetic field is what allows us to exist. It deflects harmful radiation. 
It keeps our water and atmosphere in place. But now it’s acting up — and nobody knows why.

The idiom, True North( the technical point is Magnetic North; excuse the literary license), connotes an immutable point of reference upon which navigation may rely. Science and language are not always congruent. The below article explains how this ordinal position on the globe is subject to change. At the end, some of the runways affected by True North’s movements are listed.

Planet Earth is alive. Deep beneath its skin, its life blood — rivers of molten iron — pulse around its core. And this mobile iron is what generates the magnetic field that causes auroras — and keeps us alive.

But, according to the science journal Nature, something strange is going on deep down below.

It’s causing the magnetic North Pole to ‘skitter’ away from Canada, towards Siberia.

“The magnetic pole is moving so quickly that it has forced the world’s geomagnetism experts into a rare move,” Nature reports.

Graphic via Science Journal Nature

On January 30 (delayed due to the US Government shutdown), the World Magnetic Model — which governs modern navigation systems — is due to undergo an urgent update.

This model is a vital component of systems ranging from geopositioning systems used to navigate ships through to smartphone trackers and maps.

The current model was expected to be valid until 2020. But the magnetic pole began to shift so quickly, it was realized in 2018 that the model had to be fixed — now.

“They realized that it was so inaccurate that it was about to exceed the acceptable (safe) limit for navigational errors,” Nature reports.


Every year, geophysicists from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the British Geological Survey do a check on how the Earth’s magnetic field is varying.

This is necessary as the liquid iron churning in the Earth’s core does not move in a consistent manner.

“In 2016, for instance, part of the magnetic field temporarily accelerated deep under northern South America and the eastern Pacific Ocean,” Nature reports.

This shift was captured by satellites.

Earth has lines of magnetic force looping from North Pole to South Pole, creating Earth’s protective magnetosphere. The straight line coming out of the North and South Poles represents Earth’s axis of rotation.

But the movement of the north magnetic pole has been the object of study since 1831. Initially, it was tracked moving into the Arctic Ocean at a rate of about 15km each year. But, since the mid 1990s, it has picked up speed.

It’s now shifting at a rate of about 60km a year.

But another recent study has revealed the Earth’s magnetic field has been acting up now for some 1000 years.


Why the magnetic field is shifting so dramatically is unknown.

“Geomagnetic pulses, like the one that happened in 2016, might be traced back to ‘hydromagnetic’ waves arising from deep in the core,” Nature reports. “And the fast motion of the north magnetic pole could be linked to a high-speed jet of liquid iron beneath Canada”.

This fast-flowing molten river appears to be weakening the magnetic influence of the iron core beneath North America.

“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,” Phil Livermore of the University of Leeds told an American Geophysical Union meeting. “The Siberian patch is winning the competition.”

And, as global warming opens up more shipping lanes to the north of Russia and Canada, this presents a potentially deadly problem.

“The fact that the pole is going fast makes this region more prone to large errors,” says Arnaud Chulliat, a geomagnetist at the University of Colorado Boulder and NOAA.


  • Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport in Wichita, KS, is preparing to rename its three runways in 2019. The renewal is estimated to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Wichita Eisenhower International Airport. Runways 1L/19R, 1R/19L (these refer to parallel runways, the R and L stand for “left” and “right”) and 14/32 will be changed to 2L/20R, 2R/20L, and 15/33. This is the first time the runways will be renamed since 1954.

  • At Tampa International Airport the west parallel runway, being renamed to 1Left — 19Right, to indicate 10 degrees and 190 degrees, since the runway designations are separated into 10-degree increments.












Share this article: FacebooktwitterlinkedinFacebooktwitterlinkedin

4 Comments on "True North is moving about 60 kilometres a year"

  1. Your article makes no sense. TRUE NORTH does not move. It is a fixed geo referenced point. MAGNETIC NORTH does move as it is influenced by the magma in the earths core. I would encourage you to go back, review your article and remove the ambiguity and outright misinformation it purports to be sharing.

  2. If true, not magnetic, north is shifting…..that means our axis of rotation is also changing. Climate shift would be severe, a real calamity. Lets hope that is not in the works, it has happened several times in Earth’s history. Obviously not much written about it pre-history… this one will not have much written about it if it occurs. Nobody left to write.

  3. Cindy Christiansen | January 14, 2019 at 4:25 pm | Reply

    I agree with the other comments. It is magnetic north that is shifting. If you redo this article you might want also to add that runway 4r and 4 L at Boston Logan likely will change soon. Currently they are at 35 degrees magnetic and only need to drop one more degree to have to switch the names to 3r and 3l.

  4. Arthur Bradshaw | January 17, 2019 at 12:01 pm | Reply

    Agreed, That it is Magnetic North that changes and the variation between True and Magnetic is what standard DR Navigation is based on.
    Could this also be a major contributer to the upheaval in the globes sever weather changes and increase in volcanic and other seismic activity???

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.