Australia Drifts 7 Centimeters North Every Year

Australia Drifts 7 Centimeters North Every Year

The tectonic plate that's home to continent of Australia is on the move, drifting northward about 7 centimeters (3 inches) per year. This might seem small, but it adds up: the continent has moved 1.5 meters (5 feet) in a little more than a decade. Luckily, this doesn't do much to affect smartphones or other personal GPS devices that people use in their everyday lives. It does, however, affect more precise positioning technology, such as that of self-driving vehicles. For them, a 1.5-meter discrepancy could spell the difference between driving in the exit lane and driving on the shoulder. To fix this, Australian officials plan to shift the country's coordinate system further north than they need to: a full 1.8 meters on New Year's Day 2017. That way, the country's coordinates will line up with GPS satellites around 2020, when they can put a new system in place that won't require regular updates. Explore the science behind Australia's drift with the videos below.

Australia Is On The Move

Find out how far Australia has drifted, and what that will do to our navigation systems.

01:19

What Are Plate Tectonics?

A crash course in how Earth's crust moves around.

02:37

How Does GPS Work?

You use it every day, but do you know how it actually tracks your location?

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