for National Geographic News
Santa better check his compass, because the North Pole is shiftingthe north magnetic pole, that is, not the geographical one.
New research shows the pole moving at rapid clip25 miles (40 kilometers) a year.
Over the past century the pole has moved 685 miles (1,100 kilometers) from Arctic Canada toward Siberia, says Joe Stoner, a paleomagnetist at Oregon State University.
At its current rate the pole could move to Siberia within the next half-century, Stoner said.
"It's moving really fast," he said. "We're seeing something that hasn't happened for at least 500 years."
Stoner presented his team's research at the American Geophysical Union's meeting last week in San Francisco.
Lorne McKee, a geomagnetic scientist at Natural Resources Canada, says that Stoner's data fits his own readings.
"The movement of the pole definitely appears to be accelerating," he said.
Not a Reversal
The shift is likely a normal oscillation of the Earth's magnetic field, Stoner said, and not the beginning of a flip-flop of the north and south magnetic poles, a phenomenon that last occurred 780,000 years ago.
Such reversals have taken place 400 times in the last 330 million years, according to magnetic clues sealed in rocks around the world. Each reversal takes a thousand years or more to complete.
"People like to think something special is happening in their lifetimes, but despite the dramatic changes, I don't see any evidence of it," Stoner said. "It's probably just a normal wandering of the pole."
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