Abbreviated Science Round-up: Magnetic pole gone a-wandering, shutdown science, hot seas
Nature: Earth’s magnetic field is acting up, and scientists don’t know why.
Something strange is going on at the top of the world. Earth’s north magnetic pole has been skittering away from Canada and towards Siberia, driven by liquid iron sloshing within the planet’s core. The magnetic pole is moving so quickly that it has forced the world’s geomagnetism experts into a rare move.
On 15 January, they are set to update the World Magnetic Model, which describes the planet’s magnetic field and underlies all modern navigation, from the systems that steer ships at sea to Google Maps on smartphones.
That update has been delayed because of, say it with me now, Trump’s shutdown. But even without the official update this is eyebrow-raising news.
Researchers last released a version of the model in 2015. It’s usually updated every five years, so the current model was supposed to last until 2020. However, the magnetic pole has abruptly stopped following the model, and a “geomagnetic pulse” came in 2016, further throwing off the current model and causing scientists to jump in with a revised picture of where the planet’s magnetic field is headed in the near future.
By early 2018, the World Magnetic Model was in trouble. Researchers from NOAA and the British Geological Survey in Edinburgh had been doing their annual check of how well the model was capturing all the variations in Earth’s magnetic field. They realized that it was so inaccurate that it was about to exceed the acceptable limit for navigational errors.