The continent has shifted 1.5 meters north since 1994.

Australia is moving Why you cant trust your GPS down under
news Geography Sunday, September 25, 2016 - 16:35

Australia has moved, literally. The continent has shifted 1.5 meters north since 1994, which may not be a journey but is a significant shift by geological standards. And in an era where we’re exceedingly relying on GPS systems to get us where we want, it’s bad news for technology too.

Now, all landmasses move because tectonic plates which form them are constantly moving. However, the tectonic plate Australia is on has been moving faster than the rest – about 2.7 inches a year northward and in a slight clockwise rotation, according to National Geographic. Just to put things into perspective, the North American tectonic plate moves only about an inch annually.

“When there is a significant shift in land masses over time we need to revise the models of the Earth from which GPS coordinates are calculated, so for example your neighbour doesn't end up with your old coordinates," explains Damien Saunder, the director of Cartography at National Geographic.

Your phone GPS can be accurate up to 5-10 feet, so daily travel should not be affected by the shift. But the next generation GPS devices, which will be accurate to a few inches of a given location, will stand to be affected, along with the services that rely on pinpointing precise locations. The mining industry in Australia for instance, relies on GPS to coordinate with trucks in different locations, reports the New York Times.  

“The mining company Rio Tinto already has 71 immense ore trucks rumbling around iron mines in the remote Pilbara region of Western Australia that are guided remotely from an office in Perth, 930 miles away,” it says.

Driverless cars will also be affected because being off by 1.5 meters could potentially put you on the wrong side of the road!

Australia will now have to revamp its official coordinates, which will be done at the end of this year. In the last fifty years, similar adjustments have had to be made for Australia four times, with the one in 1994 being adjusted to a total of 200 meters (656 feet).

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