Side column on pole shift

Unca Cece deals with a few of the possible effects of a pole shift in today’s column. One of them is that magnetic compasses won’t be the most reliable instruments for a while. Bad news for boy scouts, but in this age of GPS who really uses the old compasses anymore?

One thing I’m left wondering is how important the geomagnetic field really is to electrical systems. My understanding is that even now the field isn’t that strong. Could a shifting field really throw off the grid that badly?

Hunters, hikers. Why carry a GPS if you have a map & compass? If you can read a map, and use a compass, it’s a whole lot less gear to carry.

If you know the woods well enough, just a compass works well enough.

I can get a replacement compass for <$10 and it never needs batteries (which WILL fail when you NEED them most.)

Even if I had a GPS with me, I’d still have a compass with me as well for backup. Heck, I usually have a proper compass in my pack, and a small pin on one on my shirt/jacket.

I use a compass in my car as well for taking "unknown ‘short cuts’ "

Pilots, and by extension the general travelling public?

Modern commercial aircraft with inertial navigation systems don’t need a compass for their intial setup, they can align with true north by measuring the topple of their internal gyros over time.

However INS are heavy and expensive, smaller aircraft including regional turbo props still need to reference the Earth’s magnetic field to establish a heading reference.

GPS does not give accurate near instantaneous heading information the way a gyro slaved to the Earth’s magnetic field can.

My understanding is not that the main effects would not necessarily be an overloading of the grid, but disruption of control systems and such resulting from increased levels of cosmic and magnetic radiation coming from the outside in, as well as the earth-bound effects. We know that solar flares and other activity from space can seriously disrupt radio communications, and several power outages have been blamed on solar flares (although this is an area of minor dispute). An example can be found here.


Looking forward, there is much speculation in the industry that wandering magnetic poles could induce huge currents in high-tension lines, causing overloads and blackouts in areas, or even leading to the need for permanent changes in line routing, such as if a pole sat right square on top of a major city. I don’t think people really know what’s going to happen, but they think whatever it is, it will be a pain in the ass. Like most things in life are…

Speleological cartographers, a.k.a. cave mappers.

A quote from the column article:

(bolding mine) I read the article the other day and didn’t recognize the above paragraph when I reread it today… Especially the bolded sentence which I believe originally said “they just don’t know how it works”.

Was it changed or am I just dillusional?