Letter Re: Rapid Progression of the Geomagnetic North Pole?

Is it true, what the rumors have been saying about the [magnetic] north pole shifting 161 miles in just the past six months? can that be true? Is it possible that there will be a pole reversal in the next few years? Should I be worried? – Elaine T.

JWR Replies: This topic has been discussed before in SurvivalBlog, but mostly vis-a-vis the need to keep maps updated with current magnetic declination data. (The difference between magnetic north and true north.)

The geomagnetic north pole moves laterally because of shifts deep in the Earth’s core. It is presently in far northern Canada, but it is gradually shifting to the northwest and it is presumed that it will probably be in Siberia in a decade or two. (Although it is notable that the auroral toroid is pushing more toward the southeast.) Many credible sources, like Polar Endeavour, show the “walking” or “wandering” (or more properly “progressing”) of the pole position at about 35 miles per year. Wikipedia states: “Over the past 150 years the poles have moved westward at a rate of 0.05° to 0.1° per year, with little net north or south motion.” National Geographic confirms that the movement of the pole has accelerated since 1989 to as much as 37 miles per year. (Ditto for progression of the antipodal geomagnetic south pole, though it is not tracked as consistently.) This is confirmed by NOAA’s National Geophysical Data Center (NGDC.) But I can’t find any credible source that mentions a figure anywhere near “161 miles in six months”! And the web site you mentioned shows an inverted map of pole progression that might lead a casual observer to believe that the geomagnetic north pole is shifting to the south.

Based on an iterative method that relies on historical ship’s logs, it has been determined that the geomagnetic north pole actually shifted southeastward from around 1600 to the 1830s. But since then it has been progressing in a more northwesterly direction. The chances that the geomagnetic pole will shift below 68 degrees of latitude or above 88 degrees of latitude in this millennium are miniscule. Granted, the longitudinal shifts could be quite large (because of Great Circle geometry, the closer that the geomagnetic pole progresses toward 90 degrees), but the substantive issue is the measure of latitude shifts. We need to be content to sticking to observable science. Let’s leave emotion and hyperbole out of the conversation.

Full geomagnetic reversal has not occurred in recorded history. But geologists who are believers in Ancient Earth theories assert that several polarity reversals have been recorded geologically in rock formations at the mid-ocean tectonic ridges, and that these reversals happen roughly once every 450,000 years. Citing some geologists who have studied the geologic record, Wikipedia states: “The Earth’s field has alternated between periods of normal polarity, in which the direction of the field was the same as the present direction, and reverse polarity, in which the field was the opposite. These periods are called chrons.” It has also recently been asserted by some German scientists that a brief reversal–called a “geomagnetic excursion“–lasting only a few hundred years may have taken place 41,000 years ago.

Could there be a magnetic pole reversal in our lifetime? Not likely. Should we be worried? I don’t think so. I’m much, much more worried about the statist Democrats shifting out of the White House. (Or worse yet, failing to shift.) I’m also concerned about incipient cataclysmic shifts in the value of paper currencies. Not magnetic pole shifts!

My advice: be very leery about what you hear on late night radio shows or what you see on web pages that don’t cite any reliable references. (There are even some idiotic cranks out there who claim that the physical tilt of the Earth has shifted! My GPS receiver tells me otherwise.)