News and Features

Track Changes in the Earth's Magnetic Poles

Wandering of the geomagnetic North Pole
Map of declination as it has evolved over the past 50 years. The geomagnetic North Pole has been wandering toward geographic north.

Our Historical Magnetic Declination Map Viewer Shows Changes in Earth's Magnetic Field and Geomagnetic Poles from 1590-2020

As Earth's magnetic field varies over time, the positions of the North and South Magnetic Poles gradually change. Magnetic declination - the angle between magnetic North and true North - at a given location also changes over time. Our Historical Magnetic Declination Map Viewer displays locations of the geomagnetic poles and historical declination lines calculated for the years 1590-2020.

Sir James Clark Ross first discovered the North Magnetic Pole in northern Canada in 1831. Since 1831, the pole has been moving across the Canadian Arctic towards Russia. We've calculated the movement of both the North and South Magnetic Poles from 1590 to 2020 using two models: gufm1 and the International Geomagnetic Reference Field (IGRF). Gufm1 incorporates thousands of magnetic observations taken by mariners engaged in merchant and naval shipping. The IGRF is the product of a collaborative effort between magnetic field modelers and the institutes involved in collecting and disseminating magnetic field data from satellites and from observatories and surveys around the world. A recent survey by a Canadian-French international collaboration determined that the Pole is moving approximately north-northwest at 55 km per year.

Earth's magnetic field has been slowly changing throughout its existence. As Earth's molten outer core flows it produces a large magnetic field. Over time this flow will slowly change, causing the strength of the field to grow or decay and the magnetic pole locations to wander. As the tectonic plates form along the oceanic ridges, the magnetic field that exists is "frozen" into the rock as they cool below about 700 Centigrade. The slowly moving plates act as a kind of tape recorder leaving information about the strength and direction of past magnetic fields. By sampling these rocks and using radiometric dating techniques, it has been possible to reconstruct the history of the Earth's magnetic field for roughly the last 160 million years. If one "plays the tape backwards," the record shows the Earth's magnetic field strengthening, weakening, and often changing polarity.

We've created an animation showing changes in declination location and the "wandering" of the North Magnetic Pole over the last 50 years. Watch how the isogonic lines converge at the Pole. View historic data back to 1590 with our Map Viewer.

For more information, see our Geomagnetism page.

The Great Halloween Solar Storm of 2003

Solar flare from October 29, 2003
Taken by the GOES-12 satellite, this image shows one of the solar flares emitted by the sun on October 29, 2003.

In late October 2003, the sun unleashed a massive solar storm that affected a variety of technological systems around the world.

Over a decade ago, the sun played a rather spooky Halloween trick on the planet when it unleashed a massive solar storm on Earth in late October 2003. With little warning, three massive and very intense sunspot groups had emerged on the sun's surface by October 26, with the largest measuring over 13 times the size of Earth. Due to their extreme size and complex structure, 17 major solar flares--including one of the largest ever recorded--accompanied the sudden increase in sunspots.

On October 28, the largest of the sunspots ejected an enormous solar flare--one of the largest ever recorded at the time--directly at Earth. A very fast moving burst of gas and magnetic energy from the sun's outer atmosphere, known as a coronal mass ejection, and a geomagnetic storm quickly followed, with the storm growing to become the sixth most intense in over 70 years. Less than 24 hours later, the sun produced another powerful Earth-directed coronal mass ejection with another extreme geomagnetic storm following quickly on its heels.

While the Earth's atmosphere protects us from the dangerous energy particles and radiation that solar flares produce, technological systems around the world and in space felt the full of effects of the flares and subsequent geomagnetic storms. Everything from satellites to GPS to radio communication experienced problems or outages due to the severe activity.

The storm affected over half of the Earth-orbiting spacecraft, intermittently disrupting satellite TV and radio services and damaging a Japanese scientific satellite beyond repair. The solar activity also sent several deep-space missions into safe mode or complete shutdown and destroyed the Martian Radiation Environment Experiment aboard NASA's Mars Odyssey mission. At the height of the storm, astronauts aboard the International Space Station had to take cover from the high radiation levels, which had only happened twice before in the mission's history.


The solar storm also led to daily communications problems for airline flights between North America and Asia over the North Pole, costing potentially millions of dollars due to the disruptions in operations. Antarctic science groups also had a full communications blackout for over 130 hours due to storm. And, the storm seriously affected GPS systems used for surveying, deep-sea and land drilling, and other airline flights.

Despite the tricks played on our technological systems, the Great Halloween Solar Storm of 2003 also gave us a treat. The extreme and prolonged geomagnetic storms brought widespread middle and even low latitude aurorae with them on October 29 and 30. Aurora sightings occurred from California to Texas to Florida. People in Australia, central Europe, and even as far south as the Mediterranean countries also reported tremendous aurora viewing.

For more information on this storm, see the Intense Space Weather Storms, October 19 - November 7, 2003, Service Assessment. And, check out satellite images and videos from the Great Halloween Solar Storm and other significant events on our GOES Solar X-ray Imager Greatest Hits.

NGDC 50th Anniversary

Collage created by NCEI staff and data

The National Geophysical Data Center, now NCEI, celebrates 50 years as a national archive of geophysical information.

NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) located in Boulder, Colorado, celebrates its first 50 years as a national archive of geophysical information - starting as the National Geophysical Data Center (NGDC) and now as NCEI. Along with long-term partners from the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder and the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), NCEI celebrates providing stewardship, products, and services for unique geophysical data from the sun to the bottom of the sea.

NCEI (formerly NGDC) has its roots in the oldest U.S. geophysical science agency, the Coast Survey, founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1807. The Coast Survey and its successor agency, the US Coast and Geodetic Survey, charted the US coastline, plumbed the depths of the Gulf Stream, tracked earthquakes and tsunamis, studied the Earth's magnetic fields, conducted systematic surveys of the continental shelf, and helped discover magnetic striping. Today NOAA continues in that proud tradition of exacting, scientifically rigorous geophysical work.

NCEI plays a crucial role in archiving data generated from the geophysical, solar-terrestrial, cryosphere, and paleoclimatology activities generated by NOAA and its international partners around the world. To celebrate our 50th birthday, this week we highlight our unique products and datasets: nighttime lights, Extended Continental Shelf mapping, changes in sea ice, historical tsunami data, and much, much more! Join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Learn more:

Advancing Scientific Knowledge with Citizen Science

NOAA Citizen Science

By harnessing the enthusiasm of people around the world, citizen science is advancing our understanding of geophysics, weather, and climate.

Citizen science projects -- efforts to advance scientific knowledge by harnessing the enthusiasm and curiosity of citizens around the world -- will be the focus of a White House hosted forum. The Open Science and innovation: Of the People, By the People, For the People forum will take place on September 30, 2015, from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. EDT. The White House is inviting the public to view the forum live via webcast at and to participate on social media by tweeting questions to @WhiteHouseOSTP using the hashtag #WHCitSci. The event will also mark the release of the Federal Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing Toolkit, a resource highlighting case studies of successful citizen science projects.



One of the projects featured in the Toolkit is CrowdMag. This effort, developed in partnership with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Science, invites the public to help improve magnetic navigation by tracking changes in the Earth's magnetic field using the free CrowdMag app, available for both Android and iOS devices. The app uses the accelerometers and magnetometers built into smartphones to provide very localized magnetic field data. This data will help update models of Earth's geomagnetic data -- the very same models that smartphone or GPS already uses to help you navigate.

Cyclone Center

Cyclone Center

NCEI is also involved in another citizen science project known as Cyclone Center, a collaborative effort involving NCEI, Zooniverse, the University of North Carolina - Asheville, and the Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellite - North Carolina that gives volunteers a way to help improve our understanding of tropical cyclones. So far, more than 10,000 volunteers have viewed and classified more than 450,000 satellite images from more than 30 years of tropical storm records, and evidence suggests that consensus estimates from these citizen scientists do as well as or better than automated methods.

CoCoRaHS and mPING

NOAA supports several other citizen science projects as well, and the Toolkit will also feature two of these: the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network or CoCoRaHS and the Meteorological Phenomena Identification Near the Ground or mPING project. CoCoRaHS allows volunteers to provide daily precipitation data using simple tools and an interactive website. And, the mPING project, managed by NOAA's National Severe Storms Laboratory, crowdsources weather reports via a free smartphone app.

All of these citizen science efforts are already advancing our understanding of weather, climate, and geophysics, while providing fun, educational opportunities for all of us to participate in the process of scientific discovery. We invite you to check out these and other crowdsourcing opportunities and to try your hand at citizen science.

For more information on these citizen science projects, see:

New Sea Ice Concentration Product for Operational Ice Forecasting

MASAM2 data from 10 Nov 2014

MASAM2 from 10 Nov 2014: FTP

New product provides 40% higher accuracy in developing
daily operational sea ice forecasts Arctic-wide.

The Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), a partnership of NCEI and the University of Colorado Boulder, announces the release of a combined satellite imagery and human analysis sea ice concentration product. The new product provides 40% higher accuracy in developing daily operational sea ice forecasts Arctic-wide. Developed by scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (part of CIRES), NASA, Naval Research Lab, and the National Ice Center, this product includes human analysis of the sea ice edge, leading to detection of thin, small ice floes and surface melt on top of ice during the summer.

MASAM2 is a blend of two other daily sea ice data products. First is ice coverage from MASIE, the Multisensor Analyzed Sea Ice Extent product, at 4-km grid cell size. Second is ice concentration from the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer 2 (AMSR2) at 10-km grid cell size. MASIE and AMSR2 data are fused together to take advantage of the best features of both products. MASIE, based on U.S. National Ice Center analyses, is more likely to be accurate in showing where ice is present than AMSR2 due to the use of multiple sensors and quality control. However, the AMSR2 sea ice concentration product provides concentration information not available from MASIE alone. This prototype MASAM2 product currently covers only 27 months, July 2012 through mid-November 2014, but it will become a daily product if warranted.

Data are delivered in monthly NetCDF files that hold daily sea ice concentration fields. Two daily images are also provided. One shows a quick-view map of the MASAM2 sea ice concentration, and the other is an ice-source map indicating which datasets show the presence of ice: AMSR2, MASIE, both, or neither.

To access the data and learn more about this product, see the MASAM2: Daily 4-Km Arctic Sea Ice Concentration, 2012 - 2014 documentation.

Become a Citizen Scientist with Our CrowdMag App

Earth's magnetic model developed using CrowdMag data
Earth's magnetic model developed using CrowdMag data

You can help us improve the accuracy of magnetic navigation by tracking changes in Earth's magnetic field with the CrowdMag app.

If you're interested in assisting our scientists with geomagnetic research, we've got the app for you! The CrowdMag app, which is available on Google Play for Android devices and Apple's iTunes store for iOS devices, allows you to help scientists obtain data about Earth's magnetic field.

How does the app work? Your smartphone has what's known as a magnetometer-a miniature device incorporated into its integrated circuits-that allows your phone to function similar to a compass. The magnetometers in most smartphones measure Earth's magnetic field in three dimensions. When the magnetometer's data are combined with that of the accelerometer-a device that detects how the phone has moved in relation to a reference position-the phone's directional orientation can be determined.

Science quality magnetic data are typically collected with low-noise sensors in a relatively noise free environment. However, a phone's magnetometer also senses noise from currents flowing in its electronic circuits. Additionally, a phone's magnetometer has a significantly lower sensitivity than a sensor used for measuring science quality data. All these factors make it difficult to separate noise from the geomagnetic field in a phone's magnetic measurements.

This is where we need your help. After you install the CrowdMag app, your phone will send us the data collected by the magnetometer and accelerometer to help measure the strength of Earth's magnetic field at a specific point. By sourcing magnetic data from a large number of users, scientists plan to reduce noise in the data.

You might be thinking, "My phone has GPS. Why would it need something that works like a compass?" In your phone, the magnetometer and accelerometer help keep the GPS on track since GPS alone cannot provide pointing direction. Other limitations of GPS include the potential for satellite signals to become jammed or masked and an inability to penetrate water well or reach underground. Satellites are also only able to examine one region at a time, which can limit their ability to see the small, constant variations in Earth's magnetic field.

By collecting data from large number of smartphones, scientists plan to overcome or compensate for some of the limitations that accompany satellite geomagnetic data. They also allow scientists to develop magnetic models with much higher resolution than with satellites alone -- closer to a few meters versus around 3,000 kilometers. Ultimately, these data and the research that uses them will help us improve navigational accuracy as well as our understanding of Earth's magnetic field and the changes it undergoes.

Download CrowdMag on Google Play for Android devices and Apple's iTunes store for iOS devices and see if you can become a super data collector. You'll earn badges based on the number of data readings you make: bronze for 100 readings, silver for 1,000, gold for 10,000, and platinum for 100,000. To learn more about the app, visit our About CrowdMag page. And, to learn more about geomagnetism, visit our Geomagnetism Frequently Asked Questions.

Enhanced Magnetic Model Updated

NCEI Enhanced Magnetic Model (EMM2015) over the World Magnetic Model (WMM2015) declination contours
NCEI Enhanced Magnetic Model (EMM2015) (solid) over the World Magnetic Model (WMM2015) (dashed) declination contours (1 degree intervals); Red = Eastward, Green = Zero, Blue = Westward Declination

NCEI has updated the Enhanced Magnetic Model
to accurately represent the Earth's magnetic field at a high resolution.

People have used Earth's magnetic field for navigation since ancient times. Magnetic navigation has continued to improve alongside transportation technologies so that now we use magnetic models in planes, ships, vehicles, and even in smartphones. To improve magnetic navigation, NCEI scientists have tracked the changing magnetic field using satellites. This provides the most accurate and reliable models so that users can navigate their world with ease and precision. Using that work, NCEI has updated the Enhanced Magnetic Model (EMM). The EMM is a high-resolution spherical harmonic model of the magnetic field produced by the Earth's core that will accurately represent the main magnetic field on Earth until 2020.

Like the World Magnetic Model, the EMM is a large-scale representation of Earth's magnetic field that gives analog and digital magnetic compasses dependable accuracy. However, the EMM has a much higher resolution than its World Magnetic Model "cousin," making it require more computing power to run. The EMM's higher resolution also results in significantly improved pointing accuracy for applications that utilize it, which is required in aircraft manufacturing for example. The EMM also aids scientific researchers in their study of magnetic field anomalies originating the Earth's crust, which provides insight into plate tectonics.

Using years of satellite, marine, aeromagnetic and ground magnetic survey data, our scientists are able to model Earth's changing magnetic field and predict what it will look like over the next five years. Produced every five years, this model of the magnetic field produced by Earth's rapidly spinning metallic core and magnetized rocks within the lithosphere provides the best source of data for evaluating the evolution of Earth's main magnetic field and the most accurate models for a myriad of navigational uses across the globe.

50 Years of Tsunami Warning in the Pacific

Boat carried onto land by a tsunami at Concepcion Harbor (Talcahuano)

This month marks 50 years since the start of the Intergovernmental Coordination Group for the Pacific Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System.

This month marks 50 years since the start of the Intergovernmental Coordination Group for the Pacific Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System (ICG/PTWS). Following the May 22, 1960, Chilean tsunami, which stemmed from a 9.5-magnitude earthquake off the coast of southern Chile, members of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization's Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission established the ICG/PTWS. Today, the ICG/PTWS, based in Honolulu, Hawaii, coordinates an international effort across the Pacific to enhance tsunami warning and mitigation activities.

To commemorate the 50 years of tsunami disaster risk reduction efforts, the United States is hosting several events, including the 2015 International Tsunami Symposium and Twenty-sixth Session of the ICG/PTWS. These events will also be part of Hawaii's Tsunami Awareness Month, which remembers the 1946 Aleutian Islands tsunami that triggered the start of the U.S. Seismic Sea (Tsunami) Wave Warning System in 1949.

In support of NOAA's Tsunami Program, the National Centers for Environmental Information host the World Data Service for Geophysics, which includes information on tsunamis and is the national and international tsunami data archive. The World Data Service's tsunami data archive and its data management activities will be highlighted at the International Tsunami Symposium. Visit our Tsunami Data and Information page to see all of our tsunami-related products and services.

National Centers for Environmental Information

NCEI icon

NOAA's former three data centers have merged into the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI).

The demand for high-value environmental data and information has dramatically increased in recent years. To improve our ability to meet that demand, NOAA's former three data centers—the National Climatic Data Center, the National Geophysical Data Center, and the National Oceanographic Data Center, which includes the National Coastal Data Development Center—have merged into the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI).

NCEI will be responsible for hosting and providing access to one of the most significant archives on Earth, with comprehensive oceanic, atmospheric, and geophysical data. From the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun and from million-year-old sediment records to near real-time satellite images, NCEI will be the Nation's leading authority for environmental information.

Today we've launched a landing page for the new organization at Visit this page to browse our full spectrum of atmospheric, oceanographic, coastal, and geophysical products and services.

NCEI is committed to continuing to provide you with the data, information, and services you have come to rely on.

If you have specific questions about this merger, please let us know at

In The Spotlight

Enhanced Magnetic Model, 2015 Release

Enhanced Magnetic Model, 2015 Release

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