Wonderful Engineering

The US Government Shut Down Is Disrupting The Position Of The North

The effects of the government shutdown are propagating quickly and have already complicated the use of a cardinal direction. Owing to the US government’s partial shutdown, the scientific attempts to make a correction that is necessary because of the changing location of the North Magnetic Pole have come to a stop.

The North Magnetic Pole is not a permanent place itself. In fact, it continuously shifts on a regular basis. The general movement is on a northwestern path across the Arctic. Scientists have kept checks on the Pole’s movement and also the movement of the South Magnetic Pole. The tracking of these changes is made possible because of the World Magnetic Model (WMM). By tracking the changes, the scientists are able to come up with a basis for translation of varying magnetic readings into a fixed location of North that is located on the map.

Will Brow, a geomagnetic scientist, explains that this process takes place in your phone all the time; ‘Your phone contains a magnetometer that is measuring the Earth’s magnetic field. In order to make sense of this information, a reference model like the WMM is needed to correct the measurements of magnetic north made by your phone to True North.’

The World Magnetic Model is usually updated every five years without any drama. However, since the last update that took place in 2015; inconsistent changes have been surprising the researchers. They began in 2016 when a geomagnetic pulse in South America caused the magnetic pole to begin moving on an unexpected course. The pulse was eventually attributed to a jet stream that was found to be present in Earth’s molten core and travelling at about 25 miles a year.

A report published in Nature in 2018, researchers from NOAA and British Geological Survey in Edinburgh concluded that an immediate update was required. Arnaud Chulliat, a geomagnetist at the University of Colorado Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information, said, ‘The error is increasing all the time.’

According to the plan, the update was to be released on 15th January. However, NOAA, which is run under the umbrella of the Department of Commerce, is facing a government shutdown. When you try to access NOAA’s National Geophysical Data Center, the message displayed says, ‘The website you are trying to access is not available at this time due to a lapse in appropriation.’

It would seem that the World Magnetic Model will remain uncorrected until this situation is fixed.