NPR logo

Magnetic North Pole Switch Has Airport Scrambling

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/132743598/132743577" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Magnetic North Pole Switch Has Airport Scrambling

Environment

Magnetic North Pole Switch Has Airport Scrambling

Magnetic North Pole Switch Has Airport Scrambling

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/132743598/132743577" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Some of the busiest runways at Tampa's international airport are shutting down over the next few weeks. The reason? A little magnetic shift.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

You can't feel it, but the Earth's magnetic North Pole is moving away from its home in Canada's far north. The implications of this are being felt at some airports which align their runways to the points on a compass.

As Steve Newborn of member station WUSF reports, the move has actually shut down a runway far to the south in Tampa.

STEVE NEWBORN: The magnetic North Pole is not a fixed object. It's continually moving. It's actually racing from Canada to Siberia and that has officials at Tampa International Airport a little busy today.

Mr. SCOTT LOPER (Tampa International Airport): Over 100 sign panels need to be changed, 40 signs, surface-painted signs, a lot of work going on.

NEWBORN: That's Scott Loper at Tampa's airport. They've had to shut down their main runway for a week to repaint the signs that help pilots navigate around the airport.

Pilots have traditionally flown with the help of a magnetic compass, and runways are designated along the points of the compass. The runway known as 1-8 Right - for its place at 180 degrees on the compass - is now found at 190 degrees. So up went the barricades, and the airport's jets will have to use another runway for a week while its approach numbers and signs are repainted. Loper says it's not just Tampa International feeling the sting of the shifting North Magnetic Pole.

Mr. LOPER: Atlanta, I believe, is going to have to close some of their runways to start their process. Last year, we had West Palm Beach that had some runways they had to do.

NEWBORN: The idea of using magnetic compasses in this age of satellites and instantaneous communications may seem quaint. But Loper says it will still be a while before aviation officials can steer away from the designation.

Mr. LOPER: You have your GPS's - that's more based on true north and longitude/latitude because it's satellite and better fixes and stuff like that. So it's getting more precise, but they haven't made the change yet.

NEWBORN: And they may yet be caught again. The magnetic poles are still moving - and in the past, magnetic north and south actually switched places. But the last time that happened was 700,000 years ago.

For NPR News, I'm Steve Newborn in Tampa.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Support WUSF

Stories like these are made possible by contributions from readers and listeners like you.