The 2020 World Magnetic Model (WMM) was recently updated by the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) and the British Geological Survey to forecast how the magnetic north pole has changed and predict where it is headed for the next five years until the next update.
Developed by NCEI and the British Geological Survey, with support from the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), the WMM is a representation of the planet’s magnetic field that gives compasses dependable accuracy.
The WMM describes the planet’s magnetic field which underlies all modern navigation – from the systems that steer ships at sea to Google Maps on smartphones.
Smartphone and consumer electronics companies rely on the WMM to provide consumers with accurate compass apps, maps, and GPS services. The WMM is also the standard navigation tool for the Federal Aviation Administration, U.S. Department of Defense, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and more.
Earth’s north magnetic pole has been “skittering” away from Canada towards Siberia according to the science journal Nature.
Over the past two decades it has been moving so fast that the WMM released an interim update in February 2019 to ensure there were no navigational or operational issues with the difference of the true magnetic north pole and what the previous model used.
A new and updated version of the WMM is released every five years. The latest WMM2020 model will extend to 2025.
WATCH: NASA: Earth’s north magnetic pole is moving
Polarity flips every few hundred thousand years
Currently, Earth’s north and south poles match the magnetic north and magnetic south poles. However, that has changed in the planet’s history when the poles flipped. Scientists can see these flips in rock formations which record the magnetic north location while the rock is still molten.
The magnetic field is in a permanent state of flux. Magnetic north wanders, and every few hundred thousand years the polarity flips so that a compass would point south instead of north.
Scientists in recent years have predicted that Earth’s magnetic field could be gearing up to flip – a shift in which the magnetic south pole would become magnetic north, and vice versa, but this would be thousands of years away. The effects could be profound on technology, if similar to today’s technology because the weaker magnetic field would be poorer at shielding Earth against the solar wind – the constant stream of charged particles emanating from the sun – and cosmic rays which are blasts of radiation from deep space.