Which Way Is North? Scientists Have a New Answer for You

(Bloomberg) -- Your compass doesn’t point north the way it used to.

That’s because the planet’s magnetic field won’t stay put. It’s changed so much in recent years that scientists just updated the model, a year ahead of schedule.

The world magnetic model usually is updated every five years, with the next one due at the end of 2019. That was moved up because the northern magnetic pole has shifted so much, the U.S. National Centers for Environmental Information said in a statement Monday. Scientists aren’t exactly sure why the pace has accelerated.

Which Way Is North? Scientists Have a New Answer for You

The magnetic field is what causes compasses to point north and is a critical navigation aid for the world’s militaries, commercial airlines, shipping and search and rescue operations. For the record, the magnetic north pole is currently in the Arctic Ocean, far to the north of Canada and relatively close to the actual North Pole (that would be the spot on the globe where longitude lines converge, on the planet’s rotational axis).

“It’s moving about 130 meters a day,’’ Robyn Fiori, an Earth science researcher with Natural Resources Canada, said by email. At the current speed and course, “it will reach Siberia in less than 40 years.’’

Magnetic north has moved about 1,367 miles (2,200 kilometers) north and west since it was first pinpointed in Canada’s Nunavut territory in 1831. It drifted away from land in 2001.

The field also protects the Earth from deadly solar radiation, though there’s no concern that function will be affected by the shifts, Fiori said. “Earth’s magnetic field will still continue to protect us.”

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.