Science News

Australia's tectonic speed leaves cartographers behind

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia, which rides on the world’s fastest-moving continental tectonic plate, is heading north so quickly that map co-ordinates are now out by as much as 1.5 meters (4.9 feet), say geoscientists.

“There are tweets coming out saying: ‘Hey does that mean my neighbors pool is in my property now?’ Clearly not!” said Dan Jaksa, Australian Datum Manager at Geoscience Australia, a government body.

“What it means is the co-ordinate of that pool relative to the rest of the world has certainly changed by 1.5 meters,” he said.

Australia’s continental tectonic plate is moving north at a rate of seven centimeters per year (almost 3 inches a year), Jaksa said, and mapping systems haven’t kept pace.

Maps, and the navigation systems which rely on them, are based on Australia’s position in 1994.

Earthquakes, which are caused by a build up of tension between tectonic plates, change the structure of landmasses and the sea floor and can shift continents in moments.

Jaksa and fellow scientists are now recalibrating Australia’s place on the earth’s surface.

Their new calculation, called the Geocentric Datum of Australia, will be released in 2017 and plots the continent’s position down to the millimeter.

Reporting by Pauline Askin. Editing by Tom Westbrook and Michael Perry