Magnetic north moving; Pilots could feel impact

CHAD PLAUCHE-ADKINS The Marietta Times Bob Coulter watches a plane begin its flight on Wednesday from the air traffic control tower at the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport.

Most people know that the North Pole is at the most northern geographic point on the planet. But the point compasses use to determine north is a magnetic pole over Canada, and it is moving faster than expected.

According to the British Geological Survey, magnetic north hasn’t moved much in human history, but is now currently traveling around 30 kilometers a year toward Russia.

Since most navigational systems use the magnetic heading along with global positioning systems, a change in the position of magnetic north could affect how routes that people use when traveling are determined.

David Jefferey, professor of geology at Marietta College, said the core of the planet not only generates the magnetic field around the Earth, but is probably affecting the location of its pole.

“The densest particles are in the core that’s made of iron and nickel,” he said.

Jefferey said the core is made up of two parts, a liquid outer core and a solid inner core. He said as the Earth spins, currents form in the outer core that produce the magnetic charge keeping radiation in space away from the planet’s surface. He also said the shifting of magnetic north could be attributed to a changing flow inside the core.

According to gizmodo.com, the website of a cellphone innovation company, every person’s cell phone could be affected, if only slightly, by the shift of magnetic north. According to their website, each phone has a magnetometer installed that can read the level of magnetism around it. But if magnetic north has moved farther than expected, it will skew the data, giving a false location of the pole. That may not affect someone walking or driving to a huge degree, but for planes it’s a different story.

“If you’re one degree off, you’re one mile off course every 60 miles you travel,” said Bob Coulter, air traffic manager at the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport.

Coulter said that every airport in the country has a set deviation to compensate for the magnetic poles and it varies depending on where you are located. He said the deviation is determined by the National Flight Data Center. Coulter is also a pilot that gives lessons at the airport, and said that all pilots are trained on how to accurately make adjustments to their course based on the deviation determined by the NFDC.

Jefferey said another potential cause of the shift could be a naturally occurring phenomenon in the planet that switches the magnetic poles.

“We might be in the middle of a flip,” he said.

According to Jefferey, the last time the poles flipped was around 800,000 years ago. Even though the flip could cause some immediate navigational problems, Jefferey said people need not worry about any other harm coming to them or their family.

“It does not seem to affect biological life in any way,” he said.

At a glance

•What: Magnetic north pole moving faster than expected.

•Affects: Navigational issues associated with compasses in cell phones, cars and aircraft.

•Potential causes: Changing flow in liquid portion of the planet’s core.

•Root cause: Could be a flip in the Earth’s magnetic poles.

Source: Times research.