Ever the troublemaker, Australia has been creeping northwards around 6.9 centimeters (2.7 inches) each year in a slightly clockwise direction due to the movement of its tectonic plates. In geological terms, this meandering is pretty pacy. Some 50 million years from now, itis even expected to collide into the southeastern coast of China.
In the shorter term, however, the trouble is with global positioning systems (GPS) and their struggle to keep track.
GPS satellite networks determinea location based on globallongitudes and latitudes. This means a certain coordinate would remain the same in relation to the globe as a whole, even if that actual land mass has moved around it. To account for this, Australia has had to adjust its coordinates four times in the last 50 years. Their last shift in 1994 was a whopping 200 meters (656 feet), the New York Times reports.
Their next big move is scheduled for New Year’s day 2017, when Australiaalong with 23 million hungover Aussieswill officially move their local coordinatesforwardby 1.8 meters (5.9 feet).
You might think, whats the big deal? After all, your car or smartphone GPS seems like a constant source of disappointment when it comes to step-by-step accuracy.
But the trouble occurswhen automated technology increasinglyrelies on highly accurate global positioning and coordinates. Take, for example, driverless cars: A few feet in this casecould mean driving along the sidewalk. The same goes for aerial drones, whether thatbean online shopping delivery or some high-tech military vehicle.
The solution gets even more tricky when you consider all tectonic plates are on the move at different rates and in different directions. For example, the North American plate is moving at 2.5 centimeters (0.98 inches) a year, according to National Geographic.
The next step, then, is perhaps developing a new and more complex system of positioning thatis able to account for these movements.
“We used the old plate fixed system to make life simple, but we don’t want to do this adjustment every so often,” Dan Jaksa of Geoscience Australia told the BBC. “Once we have a system that can deal with changes over time, then everybody in the world could be on that same system.”