It’s getting harder for the Post Office to deliver mail to Santa Claus. Why? Because the Earth’s north magnetic pole that pilots use for reference in navigation is on the move.
I’m sure many of you remember elementary school science class when you placed a magnet under a piece of paper and sprinkled iron filings on the paper to see the effects of a magnetic field. Think of the Earth as a bigger version of that. The planet is essentially a giant molten ball of magma and a solid inner core consisting largely of iron. An appropriate analogy would that of an egg where the yolk is the inner core while the egg white is the molten core and on top of that is a thin crust, like an eggshell, where we tiny humans run around with misplaced degree of self-importance. The inner core floats independently from the rest of the planet and rotates at its own speed.
It’s this inner core that generates the Earth’s magnetic field and this field helps pilots of planes and ships determine where they are and if they’re on the correct course for their destination.
But in the last few years, the north magnetic pole has begun moving at an ever increasing rate towards Siberia.
It’s moving by about 40 miles annually. This is causing all manner of problems. Runways at airports are numbered in accordance to their alignment with magnetic north. But some airports in Florida have had to renumber their runways as a result of the drift of the magnetic pole in addition to altering existing charts and updating on board computers. Fortunately, most professional pilots rely on more sophisticated means of navigation these days such as GPS.
Several species of migratory birds and some aquatic animals are known to use the magnetic field to navigate as well. This has led to speculation of correlation with the rash of recent bird deaths and fish kills. And European birds who migrated at the wrong time of the year and also for Kazakhstani flamingos, who normally migrate to Iran, that inexplicably did a 180 degree migration to Siberia.
That the magnetic pole moves is nothing new. Occasionally the magnetic poles ‘flip’ as has been discovered in rock samples by scientists known as paleomagnetists who study reversal magnetostratigraphy. Pole reversal happens on average about every 300,000 years, though not on any sort of regular schedule. The last time it happened was 780,000 years ago. Are we overdue for a flip? No one knows for certain, but it does seem possible.
A flip can take thousands of years to occur, so it could be happening now. A flip or reversal can break the magnetic pole into segments meaning there could be multiple poles at any place on earth, say Florida, Siberia, and Africa simultaneously. Problematic if you’re a flamingo.
But can this inner core turbulence be having a seismological effect? The possibility cannot be dismissed. Science simply does not have enough evidence or historical data to make a determination as to what changes in the inner core could be having on the tectonic plates above. But the increase in seismic activity, beginning in Sumatra in 2004, and the increase in the drift of the magnetic pole, seems awfully coincidental. These quakes have even decreased the length of a day by changing the mass distribution of the Earth (It’s in microseconds, so don’t worry about changing your clocks) much like a figure skater increases the velocity of her spin by drawing her arms inward. When the mass of the Earth becomes more compact, it spins faster.
Many of the largest, most destructive quakes have happened within recent memory. The M8.5 Sumatra quake, the M9.0 Japan quake, the M7.0 Haiti quake, the M8.8 Chilean quake, etc. A quake on one fault line can foreshadow an event elsewhere on the opposite side of the plate as the plates react to each other’s movement. Case in point: Jan 12, 2010 Haiti’s quake occurred on the Caribbean Plate followed a month later by the Chilean quake on the Nazca Plate. In February of this year, the M6.3 Christchurch quake occurred on the Pacific Plate followed by the Tōhoku (Sendai) quake further up the Pacific Plate and just yesterday, a M5.3 quake back in Santiago, Chile. This clockwise precession suggests that the repositioning of these plates could signal a long overdue quake on the North American west coast. USGS scientists don’t think so; I tend to agree, since the Sendai quake appears to have released pressure on the Pacific Plate by moving northern Japan eight feet further east under the Pacific Plate.
What if we have a big California quake? Or a large event of plate movement in the Cascadia Subduction Zone? The last large instance in that area occurred on January 26, 1700, at about 9PM Pacific (yes, it was possible to measure it that precisely). It would seem prudent, in light of what’s happening at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear facility, to re-examine the wisdom of having two nuclear plants located near the San Andreas fault; both near the shore. It would also seem wise to re-examine the Republican intent to cut funding for Tsunami warning efforts.
The Internet is replete with doomsayers echoing the plot of Hollywood disaster movies and claiming the Mayan calendar is a harbinger of the end of the world. However, the world exists on a much grander time scale than humanity. And the Mayans probably just got tired of making calendars so far in advance. What’s happening to the planet is likely nothing unusual. We just haven’t been around long enough to get used to it.
It is more likely that increased seismic activity and the accelerating shift in the magnetic poles are indicative of changes taking place in the Earth’s core rather than the shift in the magnetic pole causing the seismic activity. On the plus side, the magnetic field will still protect us from interstellar radiation and we might even get to enjoy the Aurora Borealis in Florida. But I guess we’ll have to give a GPS unit to Santa for Christmas.
- When Poles Flip (cbcburke9.wordpress.com)
- Shift in Earth’s magnetic north pole forces Tampa airport to repaint its runways (gadling.com)
- What Is Happening to the Earth? …and Why? (worldtruthtoday.com)
- Flamingos Drop From Siberian Sky: Locals Mystified. (NPR.org via SOTT.net)
- Are California’s Nuclear Power Plants Susceptible to Large Earthquakes? (San Francisco Chronicle)
- Compass Direction and True North Parting Ways (MSNBC)
- “The Wandering Magnetic North Pole” and related posts (geology.com)
- California Nuclear Plants Vulnerable to Earthquakes (The Ed Show)