The wandering of Earth’s north magnetic pole, the location where the magnetic field points vertically downwards, has long been a topic of scientific fascination. Since the first in situ measurements in 1831 of its location in the Canadian arctic, the pole has drifted inexorably towards Siberia, accelerating between 1990 and 2005 from its historic speed of 0–15 km yr−1 to its present speed of 50–60 km yr−1. In late October 2017 the north magnetic pole crossed the international date line, passing within 390 km of the geographic pole, and is now moving southwards. Here we show that over the last two decades the position of the north magnetic pole has been largely determined by two large-scale lobes of negative magnetic flux on the core–mantle boundary under Canada and Siberia. Localized modelling shows that elongation of the Canadian lobe, probably caused by an alteration in the pattern of core flow between 1970 and 1999, substantially weakened its signature on Earth’s surface, causing the pole to accelerate towards Siberia. A range of simple models that capture this process indicate that over the next decade the north magnetic pole will continue on its current trajectory, travelling a further 390–660 km towards Siberia.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $15.58 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
All codes are freely available by request from the corresponding author.
Ross, J. C. On the position of the north magnetic pole. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 124, 47–52 (1834).
Amundsen, R. The Northwest Passage (Constable, 1908).
Good, G. Follow the needle: seeking the magnetic poles. Earth Sci. Hist. 10, 154–167 (1991).
Newitt, L. R., Chulliat, A. & Orgeval, J.-J. Location of the North Magnetic Pole in April 2007. Earth Planets Space 61, 703–710 (2009).
Thébault, E. et al. International Geomagnetic Reference Field: the 12th generation. Earth Planets Space 67, 79 (2015).
Friis-Christensen, E., Lühr, H. & Hulot, G. Swarm: a constellation to study the Earth’s magnetic field. Earth Planets Space 58, 351–358 (2006).
Gillet, N., Barrois, O. & Finlay, C. C. Stochastic forecasting of the geomagnetic field from the COV-OBS.x1 geomagnetic field model, and candidate models for IGRF-12. Earth Planets Space 67, 71 (2015).
Finlay, C. C., Olsen, N., Kotsiaros, S., Gillet, N. & Toeffner-Clausen, L. Recent geomagnetic secular variation from Swarm and ground observatories as estimated in the CHAOS-6 geomagnetic field model. Earth Planets Space 68, 112 (2016).
Chulliat, A. et al. Out-of-Cycle Update of the US/UK World Magnetic Model for 2015–2020: Technical Note (NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, 2019).
Hope, E. R. Linear secular oscillation of the northern magnetic pole. J. Geophys. Res. 62, 19–27 (1957).
Olsen, N. & Mandea, M. Will the magnetic North Pole move to Siberia? Eos 88, 293–293 (2007).
Korte, M. & Mandea, M. Magnetic poles and dipole tilt variation over the past decades to millennia. Earth Planets Space 60, 937–948 (2008).
Mandea, M. & Dormy, E. Asymmetric behavior of magnetic dip poles. Earth Planets Space 55, 153–157 (2003).
Hansteen, C. Untersuchungen über den Magnetismus der Erde (Christiania, 1819).
Bloxham, J. & Gubbins, D. The secular variation of Earth’s magnetic field. Nature 317, 777–781 (1985).
Chulliat, A., Hulot, G. & Newitt, L. R. Magnetic flux expulsion from the core as a possible cause of the unusually large acceleration of the north magnetic pole during the 1990s. J. Geophys. Res. 115, B07101 (2010).
Gubbins, D. & Roberts, N. Use of the frozen flux approximation in the interpretation of archaeomagnetic and palaeomagnetic data. Geophys. J. Int. 73, 675–687 (1983).
Roberts, P. H. & Scott, S. On analysis of the secular variation. 1. A hydromagnetic constraint: theory. J. Geomagn. Geoelectr. 17, 137–151 (1965).
Barrois, O., Gillet, N. & Aubert, J. Contributions to the geomagnetic secular variation from a reanalysis of core surface dynamics. Geophys. J. Int. 211, 50–68 (2017).
Barrois, O., Hammer, M. D., Finlay, C. C., Martin, Y. & Gillet, N. Assimilation of ground and satellite magnetic measurements: inference of core surface magnetic and velocity field changes. Geophys. J. Int. 215, 695–712 (2018).
Barrois, O. et al. Erratum: ‘Contributions to the geomagnetic secular variation from a reanalysis of core surface dynamics’ and ‘Assimilation of ground and satellite magnetic measurements: inference of core surface magnetic and velocity field changes’. Geophys. J. Int. 216, 2106–2113 (2018).
Livermore, P. W., Hollerbach, R. & Finlay, C. C. An accelerating high-latitude jet in Earth’s core. Nat. Geosci. 10, 62–68 (2017).
Pais, A. & Jault, D. Quasi-geostrophic flows responsible for the secular variation of the Earth’s magnetic field. Geophys. J. Int. 173, 421–443 (2008).
Gillet, N., Jault, D. & Finlay, C. C. Planetary gyre, time-dependent eddies, torsional waves, and equatorial jets at the Earth’s core surface. J. Geophys. Res. 120, 3991–4013 (2015).
Aubert, J. Geomagnetic forecasts driven by thermal wind dynamics in the earth’s core. Geophys. J. Int. 203, 1738–1751 (2015).
Tangborn, A. & Kuang, W. Impact of archeomagnetic field model data on modern era geomagnetic forecasts. Phys. Earth Planet. Inter. 276, 2–9 (2018).
Sanchez, S., Wicht, J., Bärenzung, J. & Holschneider, M. Sequential assimilation of geomagnetic observations: perspectives for the reconstruction and prediction of core dynamics. Geophys. J. Int. 217, 1434–1450 (2019).
Nilsson, A., Holme, R., Korte, M., Suttie, N. & Hill, M. Reconstructing Holocene geomagnetic field variation: new methods, models and implications. Geophys. J. Int. 198, 229–248 (2014).
Constable, C., Korte, M. & Panovska, S. Persistent high paleosecular variation activity in southern hemisphere for at least 10 000 years. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 453, 78–86 (2016).
Panovska, S., Constable, C. & Korte, M. Extending global continuous geomagnetic field reconstructions on timescales beyond human civilization. Geochem. Geophys. Geosyst. 19, 4757–4772 (2018).
Metman, M. C., Livermore, P. W., Mound, J. E. & Beggan, C. D. Modelling decadal secular variation with only magnetic diffusion. Geophys. J. Int. 219, S58–S82 (2019).
P.W.L. acknowledges funding from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) grant NE/P016758/1. C.C.F. acknowledges funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, grant agreement 772561.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Peer review information Primary Handling Editor: Tamara Goldin.
Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Extended Data Fig. 1 North magnetic pole sensitivity on geomagnetic field changes beneath the New Siberian Islands.
In this test, as described in the main text, between 1999–2019 the geomagnetic field on the CMB is allowed to evolve (according to CHAOS-6-x8) only within the shown wedge (centred on the New Siberian Islands). The resulting path of the north magnetic pole shows the insensitivity of the pole to secular variation restricted to this region, and is shown 1999–2019 by the red line. We have omitted to plot the red star (which is included in the other figures) since it would hide the path.
Extended Data Fig. 2 North magnetic pole sensitivity on geomagnetic field changes beneath a high latitude reversed flux patch.
In this test, as described in the main text, between 1999–2019 the geomagnetic field on the CMB is allowed to evolve (according to CHAOS-6-x8) only within the shown wedge (centred on the high latitude reversed flux patch which the north magnetic pole is currently traversing). The resulting very short path of the north magnetic pole shows the insensitivity of the pole to secular variation restricted to this region, and is shown 1999–2019 by the red line (which appears here as a single dot). We have omitted to plot the red star (which is included in the other figures) since it would hide the path.
Evolution of the north magnetic pole 1999–2019. The video shows the location of the north magnetic pole projected on the CMB, according to CHAOS-6-x8 (red star), with the red solid tail showing the path since 1999; contours show radial magnetic field on the CMB. The tangent cylinder is shown by the orange circle.
Evolution of the north magnetic pole 1840–2015. The video shows the location of the north magnetic pole projected on the CMB, according to COV-OBS.x1 (red star), with the red solid tail showing the path since 1840; contours show radial magnetic field on the CMB. The tangent cylinder is shown by the orange circle.
About this article
Cite this article
Livermore, P.W., Finlay, C.C. & Bayliff, M. Recent north magnetic pole acceleration towards Siberia caused by flux lobe elongation. Nat. Geosci. 13, 387–391 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-020-0570-9