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Magnetic North Pole Shifts, Forces Runway Closures at Florida Airport

January 6, 2011 Comments off

The planet’s northern magnetic pole is drifting slowly but steadily towards Russia — and it’s throwing off planes in Florida.

Tampa International Airport was forced to readjust its runways Thursday to account for the movement of the Earth’s magnetic fields, information that pilots rely upon to navigate planes. Thanks to the fluctuations in the force, the airport has closed its primary runway until Jan. 13 to change taxiway signs to account for the shift, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

The poles are generated by movements within the Earth’s inner and outer cores, though the exact process isn’t exactly understood. They’re also constantly in flux, moving a few degrees every year, but the changes are almost never of such a magnitude that runways require adjusting, said Paul Takemoto, a spokesman for the FAA.

The magnetic fields vary from place to place. Adjustments are needed now at airports in Tampa, but they aren’t immediately required at all airports across the country.

So just how often is something like this necessary? “It happens so infrequently that they wouldn’t venture a guess,” Takemoto told FoxNews.com. “In fact, you’re the first journalist to ever ask me about it.”

Takemoto was quick to point out that the change, which also was required at Tampa’s smaller Peter O. Knight airport, will have no effect on passenger safety.

“You want to be absolutely precise in your compass heading,” he pointed out. “To make sure the precision is there that we need, you have to make these changes.”

Kathleen Bergen, another spokeswoman for the FAA, explained that runway designations and charting rely upon geomagnetic information. “Aviation is charted using latitude and longitude and the magnetic poles,” she told FoxNews.com. Read more…