Santa’s New Home: The North Pole is Moving to Russia
The North Pole is moving and quickly. Is someone stealing Christmas?
It is not the Grinch or Vladimir Putin that is stealing Santa’s workshop, but instead it’s the natural processes of the Earth that are moving the North Pole. In fact, since scientists have been tracking the anomaly in the Arctic, the North Magnetic Pole has been shifting towards Russia.
So why exactly is the pole moving, and what does it mean?
Charting a Course: Magnetic North
A compass always points towards the North Magnetic Pole. Maritime and airplane navigation systems, defense systems, and even smartphones depend on accurate magnetic readings.
This magnetism has been long known, but the true origins of this force were poorly understood. In one of the first maps of the Arctic by Gerardus Mercator, the centerpiece of it was massive rock located exactly at the pole, Rupus Nigra et Altissima, or “Black, Very High Cliff.”
Most people thought that this rock formation was magnetic, which provided an easy explanation for why compasses point north. This did not convince Mercator, so he included a different rock, which he labeled the “Magnetic Pole.”
Mercator was right about the general location of Magnetic North, but he did not have the tools we have today to understand how the anomaly moves. The North Magnetic Pole is a spot on the top of the planet where the Earth’s magnetic ﬁeld lines converge and drive straight into its core.
As it turns out, the Earth’s physical structure is behind all this magnetic shifting. The planet’s inner core is made of solid iron, while surrounding that is a molten metallic outer core. It’s from here that heat escapes, creating electric currents in the conductive iron alloys in the core.
In other words, the processes that create the magnetic effect are far more complex — and occur way deeper in the planet — than Mercator could have ever imagined.
The Dynamo Effect
The Earth itself spins on its axis. The inner core spins as well, and it spins at a different rate than the outer core. This creates a dynamo effect that enables the Earth’s magnetic field.
Satellite data tracking the Earth’s magnetic field indicate that the pole is moving faster across the Arctic than previously recorded. While it’s hard to estimate an exact date by which the North Pole will lie in Russia (due to contested geographic claims in the Arctic), it will eventually get there.
What surprises scientists is the rate at which the movement has increased in recent history:
This is happening because of a push and pull between two unusually strong magnetic patches in the Earth’s outer core. One patch is under Canada while the other is beneath Siberia.
The North Magnetic Pole has historically lain within Canadian borders because of stronger pull of the Canadian magnetic patch, but that is changing rapidly.
The Evidence: How Do We Know What We Know?
Scientists can study the phenomenon of moving poles by examining the rocks lying on the ocean floor that captured magnetic traces of previous orientations of the Earth’s magnetic field.
According to the geological record, the last time the poles switched was ~780,000 years ago, and it has happened about 400 times in 330 million years. Each reversal takes roughly a thousand years to complete. The field has weakened about 10% in the last 150 years. Some scientists think this is a sign of a flip in progress.
Technology is advancing and providing new tools for scientists to study this phenomenon. In 2013, the European Space Agency (ESA) launched the SWARM mission to study the Earth’s magnetic field using satellites. This will provide data for modeling the geomagnetic field and its interaction with other physical aspects of Earth, offering a look inside the Earth from space.
Happy Holidays from Visual Capitalist
Just like Santa going down the chimney of every home to deliver presents to all the girls and boys, Visual Capitalist wants to deliver a better understanding of the world we live in, so we can better appreciate how amazing it is. This is our small present to the world.
Happy Holidays to all, and a prosperous New Year.
At Risk: The Geography of America’s Senior Population
The U.S. senior population is much more vulnerable to COVID-19. Which states and cities have the most people in this at-risk age group?
At Risk: The U.S. Senior Population
The U.S. now has the largest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases globally, and modelling predicts that the country could see about 100,000 to 200,000 total deaths. Unfortunately, adults aged 65 or older—about 16% of the U.S. population—are at much higher risk of both severe illness and death.
Today’s chart uses U.S. Census Bureau data to map the percentage of the population that is 65 years or older by state. It also outlines the urban areas that are most heavily skewed towards this older age group.
Proportion of Seniors by State
Below is the full breakdown of the U.S. senior population by state, using the latest available data from 2018.
Maine tops the list with 20.6% of its population comprising adults age 65 or older. At the other end of the scale, Utah’s seniors make up only 11.1% of its population.
|Rank||State||65+, % of Population||65+, Total Population|
Notably, Florida has the second highest percentage and number of seniors nationwide. Its governor just announced the state’s stay-at-home order on April 1st, after taking criticism for refusing to do so earlier.
New York, the current global hot spot of COVID-19, is close to the national average with 16.4% of its population aged 65 or older. However, with over 3.2 million seniors, the sheer volume of individuals needing hospitalization has already put a strain on the state’s healthcare system. Governor Andrew Cuomo says the state will run out of its current supply of ventilators in less than a week.
The Most Vulnerable Urban Areas
On a local level, which places have the highest proportion of seniors? Based on all urban areas* with a population of 250,000 or more, here’s how the top 50 looks:
|Rank||Urban Area||65+, % of Population||65+, Total Population|
|1||Bonita Springs, FL||38.2%||135,286|
|3||Barnstable Town, MA||29.4%||74,614|
|4||Palm Coast–Daytona Beach–Port Orange, FL||28.3%||110,355|
|5||Myrtle Beach–Socastee, SC–NC||27.3%||74,783|
|6||Cape Coral, FL||27.0%||175,483|
|7||Indio–Cathedral City, CA||26.0%||95,054|
|8||Port St. Lucie, FL||25.6%||110,883|
|9||Palm Bay–Melbourne, FL||22.9%||114,347|
|15||Mission Viejo–Lake Forest–San Clemente, CA||19.0%||115,891|
|16||Tampa–St. Petersburg, FL||18.9%||516,269|
|25||Urban Honolulu, HI||17.7%||148,045|
|27||New Haven, CT||17.6%||97,888|
|34||Santa Rosa, CA||17.1%||55,094|
|49||St. Louis, MO–IL||16.2%||347,537|
*Urban areas consist of a downtown core and adjacent territories
With 6 areas in the top 10, Florida is quite vulnerable at the local level as well. Other states with multiple areas on the list include Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York.
The Senior Population of Current U.S. Hotspots
To determine the vulnerability of current COVID-19 hotspots, we compared U.S. counties with a high number of cases per capita against their percentage of seniors.
Counties at the bottom left have low readings on both metrics. Conversely, counties in the top right have a dangerous combination: a high concentration of cases and vulnerable seniors.
Multiple counties in New York occupy the top right quadrant, with Yonkers being the worst off. Los Angeles county, which has a similar population to all counties in New York City, has fewer cases and a smaller proportion of seniors.
To date, outbreaks have been mostly focused in urban areas where populations tend to be younger. However, as COVID-19 begins infiltrating rural areas, healthcare systems will need to contend with both older age groups and fewer resources.
The Emissions Impact of Coronavirus Lockdowns, As Shown by Satellites
While the COVID-19 pandemic has been all-consuming, these satellite images show its unintended environmental impacts on NO₂ emissions.
The Emissions Impact of Coronavirus Lockdowns
There’s a high chance you’re reading this while practicing social distancing, or while your corner of the world is under some type of advised or enforced lockdown.
While these are necessary measures to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, such economic interruption is unprecedented in many ways—resulting in some surprising side effects.
The Evidence is in NO₂ Emissions
Nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) emissions, a major air pollutant, are closely linked to factory output and vehicles operating on the road.
As both industry and transport come to a halt during this pandemic, NO₂ emissions can be a good indicator of global economic activity—and the changes are visible from space.
These images from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), as well as satellite footage from NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), show a drastic decline in NO₂ emissions over recent months, particularly across Italy and China.
NO₂ Emissions Across Italy
In Italy, the number of active COVID-19 cases has surpassed China (including the death toll). Amid emergency actions to lock down the entire nation, everything from schools and shops, to restaurants and even some churches, are closed.
Italy is also an industrial hub, with the sector accounting for nearly 24% of GDP. With many Italians urged to work from home if possible, visible economic activity has dropped considerably.
This 10-day moving average animation (from January 1st—March 11th, 2020) of nitrogen dioxide emissions across Europe clearly demonstrates how the drop in Italy’s economic activity has impacted the environment.
Source: European Space Agency (ESA)
That’s not all: a drop in boat traffic also means that Venice’s canals are clear for the time being, as small fish have begun inhabiting the waterways again. Experts are cautious to note that this does not necessarily mean the water quality is better.
NO₂ Emissions Across China
The emissions changes above China are possibly even more obvious to the eye. China is the world’s most important manufacturing hub and a significant contributor to greenhouse gases globally. But in the month following Lunar New Year (a week-long festival in early February), satellite imagery painted a different picture.
Source: NASA Earth Observatory
NO₂ emissions around the Hubei province, the original epicenter of the virus, steeply dropped as factories were forced to shutter their doors for the time being.
What’s more, there were measurable effects in the decline of other emission types from the drop in coal use during the same time, compared to years prior.
Back to the Status Quo?
In recent weeks, China has been able to flatten the curve of its total COVID-19 cases. As a result, the government is beginning to ease its restrictions—and it’s clear that social and economic activities are starting to pick back up in March.
Source: European Space Agency (ESA)
With the regular chain of events beginning to resume, it remains to be seen whether NO₂ emissions will rebound right back to their pre-pandemic levels.
This bounce-back effect—which can sometimes reverse any overall drop in emissions—is [called] “revenge pollution”. And in China, it has precedent.
—Li Shuo, Senior climate policy advisor, Greenpeace East Asia
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