British scientists at a January 11 meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society were asked to consider a proposal to license commercial use of the International Geomagnetic Reference Field (IGRF). The income—which could reach over $2 million a year—would support geomagnetic observatories in developing countries. The proposal would not affect the access that research scientists presently have to the data free of charge.
IGRF has become the industry standard for all kinds of navigation, including that of airplanes and radio systems. In oil production, it is used for the highly accurate magnetic tools that direct bores. Even with modern navigational devices, the risk associated with mid-direction makes magnetic reference more critical than ever, if only as a fail-safe system.