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Tug-of-war drives magnetic north sprint

15 May 2019

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As far as we know, Earth's magnetic north has always wandered, but it has recently gained new momentum and is making a dash towards Siberia at a pace not seen before. While this has some practical implications, scientists believe that this sprint is being caused by tussling magnetic blobs deep below our feet.

Unlike our geographic North Pole, which is in a fixed location, magnetic north wanders. This has been known since it was first measured in 1831, and subsequently mapped drifting slowly from the Canadian Arctic towards Siberia.

One of the practical consequences of this is that the World Magnetic Model has to be updated periodically with the pole's current location. The model is vital for many navigation systems used by ships, Google maps and smartphones, for example.

One of the many areas of research using information from Swarm focuses on explaining why the pole has picked up such a pace – and a subject being discussed at this week's Living Planet Symposium.

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