Something weird is happening deep under the Earth’s surface.
It leads us to a funny conclusion and some important Know-How.
You see, during our college years, we got paid to drive boats. We studied very hard, and the Coast Guard deemed us a captain at the earliest possible age.
The process involved a lot of exams. A big part of the navigational tests involved a phenomenon few folks know all that much about.
It has to do with the shifting North Pole.
The fact is if you blindly followed your compass to the north, you wouldn’t end up sitting atop the world at the geographic North Pole.
Where exactly you’d find yourself is a matter of when you’d make your journey.
A hundred years ago, you would have found yourself somewhere in Canada’s frigid Arctic, well below 75 degrees latitude.
Twenty years ago, you would have been in the Arctic Sea at about 80 degrees latitude.
And 20 years from now, you’ll likely end up somewhere in Russia.
That’s because the magnetic pole is moving at a pace of about 25 miles per year… and the compass in your hand doesn’t really point to the planet’s northern axis.
It points, using the simplest terms, to the end of a giant molten stream of iron that’s flowing thousands of miles beneath our feet.
Driving big boats on the mid-Atlantic coast, we hardly noticed the difference between magnetic north and true north.
But when we were dropped into the middle of Alaska’s wilderness and set a course for our new home, the difference was quite obvious.
If we didn’t use the math we studied with the Coast Guard, we easily could’ve have gotten ourselves in trouble. The difference between where we were told to go and where we wanted to go was close to 20 degrees.
But here’s the thing… That number changes each year.
It shrinks as the magnetic pole quickly races toward the geographic pole… and eventually soars right on past it.
In Alaska, the distance between true north and its magnetic twin decreases about 16 minutes (there are 60 minutes in a degree) each year.
But it turns out there’s a problem with that figure.
That’s where a peculiar change in the Earth comes in. The numbers are changing far faster and more erratically than most folks expected.
The big eye-opener came in 2016.
That’s when scientists observed a powerful magnetic pulse deep under South America. As the underground river of iron suddenly shifted (at least that’s the theory), it jolted the mathematical models and accelerated the magnetic pole’s shift.
With the move, the navigational corrections published in 2014 quickly grew inaccurate.
In March of last year, they failed to meet global accuracy requirements.
Odd Problem… Big Problem
Ahhh… Who cares?
It’s a problem only for us cold-blooded dopes who enjoy a boat ride through the wild north, right?
That’s not the case… at all.
Your cellphone is affected by the problem…
So are the satellites over our heads…
And so is nearly every electronic navigation device on the planet. We’d hate to be driving a submarine these days.
Fortunately, the variations are still pretty small, especially in the planet’s middle latitudes. We don’t expect anybody to get hurt by the phenomenon.
But we did find something disturbing while researching what’s happening.
When we went to a website that is supposed to show us the latest compass-fixing calculations, we found this message:
That damned wall… it got us again.
Just as anybody who can put two and two together to make four would guess, the sticky tentacles of Washington are woven throughout this story.
And with politics holding up business, the latest fix to our magnetic problem is held up.
That’s because the mathematical formula that helps the world adjust for polar deviations is normally updated every five years.
The current program was supposed to be good through 2020.
But after the sudden pulse in South America, things had to move more rapidly. For the first time ever, the folks in charge updated things a year in advance.
The new math was to be released last Tuesday.
But as the website shown above proudly tells us… the NOAA sent its workers home. There’s no money.
It now tells us to expect a fix by January 30.
In other words, if you’re operating a ship this week and run into an iceberg… don’t blame global warming.
It’s found a way to mess with everything… even the simple compass in our hands.