North pole shift could cause airport trouble
Airports like Tampa and West Palm Beach have recently closed runways because of the shift that is taking place, and it is not the runway that is moving.
Peter Burns, Ph.d., a professor at Notre Dame, says, “The issue of course is the magnetic field does not align with the rotational poles of the earth, and depending on where you sit on the earth, the wandering of the magnetic poles is more or less significant.”
Burns also says that magnetic north is currently located in northern Canada, and it is wandering towards Russia.
This could cause some problems for pilots, as compass readings will also “wander”.
Dee Davis of the Mishawaka Pilots Club, says, “More and more navigation is GPS-based and that is a wonderful thing. But the magnetic north compass still works very well, it is inexpensive, and doesn’t require batteries.”
Compasses aid in navigation and they play an important role in runway numbering.
The main runway at South Bend Regional Airport is labeled 27, a look at the charts shows that the runway’s full heading is at 273 degrees.
If magnetic north continues to wander, some runway numbers will no longer match up with their true heading, a problem that could be very dangerous for pilots taking off.
“One of the most important things that a pilot does before take off, is he will orient his directional gyro, his DG, to the runway heading when he is lined up on the runway,” says Davis, “If he set the runway heading to what he expected looking down the runway, and that wasn’t correct that could put him on a collision course with an obstacle after take off.”
John Schalliol, Executive Director of the South Bend Regional Airport, says “It is an expensive proposition, ten years ago there wasn’t a mandate for taxi way guidance signs, now there is. And those taxi way guidance signs contain information that includes the runway numbers, and we have 104 taxi way guidance signs on the air field.”
Although the signs are replaceable, it is not cheap.
“To do all three of our runways and of course the short runway doesn’t have as many signs as the longest one does, it would cost about $40,000 to retrofit that,” says Schalliol.
Although experts say they might have to be replaced.
“I would say it absolutely will continue, because it arises from a liquid core in the earth and that core is not going to solidify anytime soon. So we can expect the magnetic field to continue to be present and to continue to move,” says Peter Burns.
According to the Airport Director, the retrofitting will not begin in South Bend any time soon.
Although he estimates any change will likely be at least three to four years down the roads.
If the movement of the magnetic North Pole continues at its current rate, it will move from its current location in Northern Canada to Siberia in 50 years.
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