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  Home > Newsletter > The North Pole Is On the Go, Again, February 2011

The North Pole Is On the Go, Again

New research shows the North Pole is moving at a rate of 25 miles (40 kilometers) a year. As a result, planes were grounded recently at Tampa International Airport while compass signage was repainted.

Pilot navigation is dependent on the Earth’s magnetic fields. When a significant shift occurs, navigational charts, airport signage and runway compass headings are adjusted. Every five years, the FAA reevaluates shifts in the poles, known as magnetic variation, and makes necessary changes to runways and flight procedures. The FAA also publishes new aeronautical charts for pilots every 56 days.

Around the first of the year, The North Magnetic Pole shifted about 40 miles toward Russia at a rate of approximately 40 miles per year. It is currently about 85 degrees latitude. The South Magnetic Pole is approximately 65 degrees latitude and is moving about three miles per year.

The magnetic shift of the North Pole has generated widespread industry interest, but the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) stated that the "regular, natural process is nothing to be worried about." However, pilots that use old-fashion compasses for navigation should be aware of new charts and headings.

Poles On the Go

Over the past century the North Pole has moved 685 miles (1,100 kilometers) from Arctic Canada toward Siberia. At its current rate, the Pole could reach Siberia within the next 50 years.

The Earth's magnetic fields are constantly changing. Geologists think the magnetic field is caused by the Earth's core that is made up of a solid iron center surrounded by rapidly spinning liquid metal. This creates a "dynamo" or electromagnet that interacts with the rocky mantle of the Earth, which is also shifting, resulting in an ever-changing magnetic field.

The location of the North Pole also influences the Northern Lights, which form when solar radiation bounces across the magnetic field in the upper atmosphere. As the north magnetic pole drifts, the Northern Lights move with it.

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