The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) typically produces a World Magnetic Model once every five years, but a new version of the model has been released just 4 years after the previous update.
The World Magnetic Model is a model used to map out Earth’s magnetic field. The Earth’s magnetic north pole determines our compass directions; that means when the magnetic pole shifts, so does due north. The World Magnetic Model helps us anticipate changes or shifts in the pole, so that operations dependent on direction can go on as needed.
NOAA gives a brief overview of the model’s many uses:
“The military uses the WMM for undersea and aircraft navigation, parachute deployment, and more. Other governmental organizations, such as NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration, U.S. Forest Service, and many more use this technology for surveying and mapping, satellite/antenna tracking, and air traffic management.
Smartphone and consumer electronics companies also rely on the WMM to provide consumers with accurate compass apps, maps, and GPS services.”
Why Is A New Model Needed So Soon? Our Magnetic North Pole is currently in a phase of quick shifting; more specifically, it’s shifting away from Canada and toward Siberia. This shift is caused by erratic behavior of the Earth’s molten core.
At the Earth’s core metals like nickel and iron are moving around in their molten states. Their existence, and flowing movement, act as a conductor for Earth’s magnetic field. Thus, when the Earth’s core shifts around, so will our magnetic field and north pole.
The pole has been shifting toward Siberia since we began tracking it back in the 1800s, but it has now taken on a pace that has outrun the current World Magnetic Model. To keep an accurate model accessible for all the industries dependent on it, NOAA released the new version on Monday. That’s about one year earlier than the scheduled release of the 2020 update.
The version released Monday is a bridge to the new 2020 update, which will still be rolled out at the beginning of next year. Then, hopefully, that update will last the typical 5 year cycle that most versions of the World Magnetic Model do.