It’s not a Michael Bay movie, magnetic north is really shifting faster than before

Declination settings on a typical topo

Magnetic north is not true north. Got that?

Well, some may feel it’s a skill that hardly seems like having anymore, given the ubiquity of handheld GPS devices and the ever-increasing capability of smartphones, but any hiker worth his bootlace should be able to properly use a compass.

Backcountry hikers who keep their compass as close as their paper topo know that the first step in correctly navigating with such a tool is to adjust their declination for magnetic north. It could mean the difference between a few quick miles through the forest and winding up in a twisted slot canyon. Apparently though, we need to learn to adjust for declination on the fly because scientists have found that magnetic north has entered a “fast shift” phase.

Jeff Love with the U.S. Geological Survey Geomagnetism Program (again … not a Michael Bay movie) says that this is nothing unusual but should be consistently monitored by those who navigate sans satellite device. It’s just that, you know, our planet’s revolving core of molten iron tends to adjust its pace every few generations.

“Magnetic north is shifting all the time; it’s a continuous process, not an event … In 10 to 20 years from now, it might be slowing down,” he said.

Cool. Read more about it in that url-embedded text up there. You can also check out Backpacker magazine’s take on compass use.

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