Australia’s Place on the Map is About to Shift

August 3, 2016 | Erica Tennenhouse

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The land down under is headed north-north-east.

Australia is on the move. The restless country shifts slightly in the north-north-east direction each year due to tectonic activity, which has culminated in a 1.5-meter (5-foot) jump over the past 22 years.

This slow drift has led to a discrepancy between two systems that are used to provide locational data. The global lines of longitude and latitude, used by modern satellite systems, do not change when continents shift. But the nation’s local lines of latitude and longitude are fixed to the continent, moving when it moves. As a result, the two sets of coordinates have drifted apart from each other over time.

Dan Jaksa of Geoscience Australia explains to BBC News that from a technology standpoint, it is necessary for the global coordinates to accurately reflect tectonic motion.

"If you want to start using driverless cars, accurate map information is fundamental," he says. "We have tractors in Australia starting to go around farms without a driver, and if the information about the farm doesn't line up with the co-ordinates coming out of the navigation system there will be problems."

Australia will close the gap between the global and local coordinates on January 1, 2017, when it will push its latitude and longitude 1.8 meters (5.9 feet) in the direction of its tectonic movement — a slight overcorrection, intended to prolong the time to the next alignment.

By 2020, Australia will have caught up to its new coordinates. And according to , by that time, Geoscience Australia hopes to make the switch to a more dynamic system that keeps up-to-date on real-world coordinates by calculating the velocity of points on the continent.

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