Australia is moving up on the map to keep navigation systems accurate

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Screen capture Google Maps

Australia is literally moving up in the world.

Australia lies on a fast moving continental plate that shifts the continent north and slightly east by about seven centimeters each year, but for over 20 years, the country's official system of latitude and longitude coordinates have stayed the same. This means that as we have become more reliant on satellite navigation systems in our phones and cars, local location data in Australia has been off.

The government's geographical science agency Geoscience Australia says that although navigation information has been accurate within five to ten meters, that's no longer accurate enough. As we look to a future of self-driving cars and other autonomous technologies that will rely on GPS positioning, a small discrepancy can have major consequences. So, the agency will be updating the system of local coordinates -- the Geocentric Datum of Australia -- for the first time since 1994 to change where Australia sits on the map.

The country's coordinates are currently off by over a meter, but that will increase to right about 1.5 meters by 2020. The new updates will place Australia at its projected 2020 coordinates, bumping the continent north by 5 feet. The new coordinates will be released in January 2017 and will be about 20 cm north of the actual coordinates at that time, but the gap will be closed over each year leading up to 2020.

"We have points on Australia that are fixed to Australia and the lines of latitude and longitude move with those points," Dan Jaksa from Geoscience Australia said to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

"The lines are fixed to the continent but as time goes by, that position compared to a GPS position can create a difference, so every so often we need to change that."

All of the continental plates are moving by a few centimeters every year. The Pacific Plate, which the Australian plate collides with, is moving west about 11 centimeters every year. As continental and oceanic plates shift, global coordinates will have to be updated and how we draw our maps will have to change, especially as autonomous technologies like cars, farming equipment and more start to take on major roles in our lives.

Tags: Australia | Gadgets | Technology


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