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The magnetic north pole is moving faster than expected. Is your Waze navigation still accurate?

Earth’s magnetic north pole is shifting more than scientist earlier expected and the movement appears to be accelerating. This, some fear, can cause havoc to the countless number of navigation systems that depend on the planet’s magnetic field as a point of reference.

But does that mean navigation systems like Waze and Google Maps are no longer accurate?

Not really.

Our planet’s magnetic north has been moving so much in the last few years that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had to issue an earlier than planned update to its World Magnetic Model.

Location of the north magnetic pole in comparison to the geographic north pole.

The model is updated every five years to ensure that GPS system and compass remain accurate. The next major update was scheduled to happen in 2020 but had was done earlier on February 4, 2019 due to the rapid movements of the magnetic poles.

The World Magnetic Model tracks our planet’s magnetic field and is crucial to almost all navigation systems used today – this includes, Waze and Google Maps as well as maritime and aeronautical navigation.

However, you don’t have to worry as the effect on navigation systems are minimal. The only exception is if you’re using navigation in the Arctic and northern Canada. If you are, then the effects of the shifting magnetic north pole can be pronounced.

For now, as scientist are still able to track the magnetic field and the World Magnetic Model is updated regularly, your navigation should be fine.

The rate at which the magnetic north pole is moving over time

Cause of the erratic movement is still a mystery

Over the past few decades the position of the Earth’s magnetic north has been shifting erratically between Siberia and Canada.

“It’s moving at about 50 km (30 miles) a year,” Ciaran Beggan, a scientist from the British Geological Survey in Edinburgh, Scotland, told Reuters. “It didn’t move much between 1900 and 1980, but it’s really accelerated in the past 40 years.”

What is causing the rapid movements in the Earth’s magnetic field is a mystery for scientists but there are two possibilities: One is the shifting magnetic field could be caused by a powerful geomagnetic pulse that might have thrown that magnetic field out of its rhythm. The second possibility is that a stream of liquid iron flowing at high speed deep within the Earth’s core could be affecting the planet’s magnetic field.

Whatever the case may be, rest assured that we can continue to trust our navigation systems to take us where we need be, accurately.


Amin Ashaari