Scientists Have Puzzled Over the Drifting North Magnetic Pole for Years – Now, Some Answers

Swirling Iron

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. However, since the 1990s, this drift has turned into more of a sprint – going from its historic wandering of 0–15 km a year to its present speed of 50–60 km a year. Credit: N. Gillet

Magnetic North and the Elongating Blob

For some years now, scientists have been puzzling over why the north magnetic pole has been making a dash towards Siberia. Thanks, in part, to ESA’s Swarm satellite mission, scientists are now more confident in the theory that tussling magnetic blobs deep below Earth’s surface are at the root of this phenomenon.

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.

However, since the 1990s, this drift has turned into more of a sprint – going from its historic wandering of 0-15 km (0-9 miles) a year to its present speed of 50-60 km (31-37 miles) a year. This shift in pace has meant that the World Magnetic Model has had to be updated more frequently, which is vital for navigation on smartphones, for example.

Our magnetic field exists because of an ocean of superheated, swirling liquid iron that makes up the outer core. Like a spinning conductor in a bicycle dynamo, this moving iron creates electrical currents, which in turn generate our continuously changing magnetic field.

Numerical models based on measurements from space, including from ESA’s Swarm mission, have allowed scientists to construct global maps of the magnetic field. Tracking changes in the magnetic field can tell researchers how the iron in the core moves.

Magnetic Field Force That Protects Our Planet

The magnetic field and electric currents in and around Earth generate complex forces that have an immeasurable impact on everyday life. The field can be thought of as a huge bubble, protecting us from cosmic radiation and charged particles that bombard Earth in solar winds. Credit: ESA/ATG medialab

During ESA’s Living Planet Symposium last year, scientists from the University of Leeds in the UK reported that these satellite data showed that the position of the north magnetic pole is determined largely by a balance, or tug-of-war, between two large lobes of negative flux at the boundary between Earth’s core and mantle under Canada.

Following on from this, the research team has recently published their latest findings in Nature Geoscience.

Phil Livermore, from the University of Leeds, said, “By analyzing 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.”

The big question is whether the pole will ever return to Canada or continue heading south.

Tug Between Magnetic Blobs

Using satellite data, including from ESA’s Swarm mission, researchers have concluded that this is down to competition between two magnetic blobs on the edge of the Earth’s outer core. Changes in the flow of molten material in the planet’s interior have altered the strength of the above regions of negative magnetic flux. The image shows how the strength of the magnetic patch over Canada has weakened and how the position of the north magnetic pole has changed between 1999 and 2019. Credit: P. Livermore

“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,” explained Dr. Livermore.

“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.”

Reference: “Recent north magnetic pole acceleration towards Siberia caused by flux lobe elongation” by Philip W. Livermore, Christopher C. Finlay and Matthew Bayliff, 5 May 2020, Nature Geoscience.
DOI: 10.1038/s41561-020-0570-9

15 Comments on "Scientists Have Puzzled Over the Drifting North Magnetic Pole for Years – Now, Some Answers"

  1. James Titmas | May 15, 2020 at 9:28 am | Reply

    We might consider the fluid core magnetism may be responding the the movement of the solar system past the galactic plane with the earth’s poles responding in sympathy with the magnetic flux from the black holes in the galactic heart.

  2. As the mapping our our magnetic pole’s geologic history thru time, the pattern evident is one similar to an earthquake rose.

  3. E E MacIntosh | May 15, 2020 at 3:50 pm | Reply

    Another notch in the key to harnessing gravitational energy.

  4. Mary L Raymond | May 15, 2020 at 7:13 pm | Reply

    Reading other comments I may sound like a simpleton however I am willing to risk it. I would like to know if changes made by the construction and daming to the earths rotation by the 3 rivers dam in china could be affecting the earths rotation and therefore the magnetic north pole? It seems to me that the slowing of so much physical inertia might have some serious unforeseen consequence.

  5. So it’s not a debate that the magnetic pole is moving at a rapid pace. One can also tie this change to our climate. So for arguments sake can we stop blaming cars and farts for something out of our control. CO2 isn’t high enough for extinction level events OR REMOTELY CLOSE. But our poles and shifting magnetic field somehow aren’t part of the climate change model. Just CO2 and methane. Queue eye roll

  6. Nancy Schmerl | May 15, 2020 at 9:13 pm | Reply

    Poles are shifting as they always have. But more so is linked to India and its water usage. Reports have already been dine in this issue.

  7. What Physics predicts about earth rotation from West to East (reverse rotation).

  8. Srinivasa MN | May 15, 2020 at 11:19 pm | Reply

    Drifting of north pole from Canada towards Siberia is beyond the scope of common man,does it affect physiology of humanbeings and animals is question of the hour,back in India many spiritual gurus will have to take a note of it and explain it the rest of the world .

  9. The sun,s magnetic field certainly interacts with the iron on Earth.Spinning daily this iron is acting like a motor.Perhaps this is the reason Earth and other planets spin.

  10. The South Pole has moved as well. It was where Antarctica and South America play footsie at a Yin-Yang shaped connection point between the two continents. It is 23degrees off from the present South Pole: check it out. That is the degree of |Earth’s tilt, suggesting that whatever threw the poles off bent the Earth on its new axis, and deranged the magnetic poles which are striving to return to their original places, and that for the North Pole was Siberia, opposite the old South Pole. The Earth may be trying to retake its old, upright position versus the Sun; which would be fatal I think, but at least eliminate seasons.

  11. James Titmas | May 16, 2020 at 10:42 am | Reply

    Some 5head conspiracists in these comments

  12. Larry Rainwater | May 16, 2020 at 11:17 am | Reply

    What is happening with the Earth was told by Native American Indians thousands of years ago, we know what we’re going through is called Earth changes. I am White Wolf, for further teachings contact me.

  13. Mary the dams like Three Gorges do change local gravity but the overall effect is miniscule (pressure on the Earth’s crust is more significant from a geological stability POV however) what is really concerning is what might happen as the magnetic pole breaks down completely and shifts to another pole – as it has done regularly throughout Earth’s history.

  14. Bi polar flat earth model

  15. The underground atomic tests , would the shock waves from these affect the spin of the earth’s core, slowing down the rotation? How long would it take for a atomic explosion shock wave to reach the planets core.?

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