The Reason Earth's Magnetic Poles Are Shifting Faster Than Ever

We live in an age of role reversals, where traditional domestic and workplace norms are rapidly shifting to accommodate cultural changes. Women wear the pants, men stay at home, and just about everything from 9 to 5 and A to Z is being turned over like a fresh patch of dirt in granny's garden. Now it seems we may also be living in an age of rapid pole reversals — because scientists are reporting the Earth's magnetic poles are shifting faster than ever, via MNN.

Who do we have to thank? Answer A: Obama. B: Greta Thunberg. C: Putin. D: The eternal guiding hand of Mother Nature and Father Time.

If you guessed "D," you win. Magnetic north, which is what compasses point towards, is shifting towards Russia at a faster rate than any other time in recorded history, but not even Putin can take credit for that accomplishment — hopefully. 

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

The World Magnetic Model (WMM) was due to be updated in 2020, but the date was moved up after a U.S. military request, and the new data was released Dec. 10, 2019.

A global pole dance

The new model forecasts a steady drift towards Russia at roughly 30 miles annually, which will undoubtedly cause some navigational trouble.

"The ongoing changes are causing major problems for aviation, navigation and migratory animals that use the Earth's magnetic field to orient themselves. Some airports have even changed the names of their runways to better correspond to their current direction relative to magnetic north," MNN reports. But since we're pretty new to all of this, we don't know exactly how serious this will be, especially for migratory creatures like birds and turtles. Whether or not they'll be able to recalibrate more effectively than a Garmin remains to be seen.

The good news is that for us groundlings, it's not as much of a concern. Our smartphones and GPS devices will be golden.

We're long overdue for a complete pole reversal — they typically happen every 400,000 years, and it's been 780,000 since Earth has last experienced one. But you don't need to worry, it's not an overnight affair, and while it'll be a bigger deal than Y2K, humanity can handle it. "Reversals typically take about 10,000 years to happen," said Jeffrey Love of the U.S. Geological Survey.

Keep your fingers crossed and pointed to true north.