For centuries, navigators of the world's oceans have been familiar with an effect of Earth's magnetic field: It imparts a directional preference to the needle of a compass. Although in some settings magnetic orientation remains important, the modern science of geomagnetism has emerged from its romantic nautical origins and developed into a subject of great depth and diversity. The geomagnetic field is used to explore the dynamics of Earth's interior and its surrounding space environment, and geomagnetic data are used for geophysical mapping, mineral exploration, risk mitigation, and other practical applications. A global distribution of ground-based magnetic observatories supports those pursuits by providing accurate records of the magnetic-field direction and intensity at fixed locations and over long periods of time. ?? 2008 American Institute of Physics.