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North Magnetic Pole could be leaving Canada

North Magnetic Pole could be leaving Canada

By Richard Stenger

(CNN) -- The North Magnetic Pole could soon abandon Canada, migrate north of Alaska and eventually wind up in Russia, according to a Canadian scientist.

The magnetic pole, which has steadily drifted for decades, has picked up its pace in recent years and could exit Canadian territory as soon as 2004, said Larry Newitt of the Geological Survey of Canada.

If the pole follows its present course, it will pass north of Alaska and arrive in Siberia in a half century, but Newitt cautioned that such predictions could prove wrong.

"Although it has been moving north or northwest for a hundred years, it is not going to continue in that direction forever. Its speed has increased considerably during the past 25 years, and it could just as easily decrease a few years from now," the geophysicist said.

Wandering Pole: Position of North Magnetic Pole over the years 
 North Magnetic Pole

Explanation: The location to where compasses point from virtually every place on the planet, which acts somewhat like a giant magnet.

The Earth's magnetic field originates in the outer core, produced by the movement of molten iron more than 1,850 miles (3,000 km) below the surface and influenced to some degree by charged particles streaming from the sun.

Navigation: Global positioning satellites have reduced the need for compasses, but some smalltime mariners, pilots and travelers on foot still rely on compasses. They need updated charts that delineate the North Magnetic Pole's current location to plot accurate courses.

The erratic pole can jump around considerably each day, but migrates on average about 10 kilometers to 40 kilometers each year.

Friend of navigators for centuries, beckoning compass needles from virtually every point on the planet, the North Magnetic Pole is distinct from the North Terrestrial Pole, the fixed point that marks the axis of the turning planet. The magnetic pole is currently 966 kilometers (600 miles) from the geographic one.

Because the magnetic pole lies in the Arctic Ocean, scientists attempting to pinpoint its precise location must visit during a brief window in the spring.

"We always do this kind of work in May. We need frozen conditions so that we can land an airplane anywhere on ice or snow, but not so cold that it is impossible to work outdoors," Newitt said.

The North Magnetic Pole historically is resurveyed about once every decade. But Newitt and colleagues, who last studied the site in 2001, might attempt another trek in 2003 to investigate further its accelerated migration.

The pole is a short plane ride away from Resolute Bay, home to 200 hardy souls in one of Canada's most northerly settlements, where a popular T-shirt boasts: "Resolute is not the end of the world, but you can see it from here."

Despite its remote location, tourists occasionally visit the town to experience North Pole adventures, searching for everything from polar bears to Santa Claus to an even more elusive target.

During a 1984 survey, Newitt and colleagues were approached by a newlywed couple with a strange request.

"When they heard we were going to the pole they asked if they could hitch a ride. When asked why they wanted to go there, they replied that they wanted to conceive their child there," Newitt said.

The honeymooners did not make the trip, but other couples, also believing that the location nurtures fertility, have chartered small planes to the forbidden spot, set up tents on the ice and conducted their business.

Nothing about the magnetic field at the pole would have a significant effect on humans, Newitt said. But ever the scientist, he added:

"It would be interesting to track the children of these polar trysts for the next couple of decades."


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