Where is the Exact North Pole? ~ Kwentology

Rushing for Santa this Christmas? You may have already read the tales of how Santa Claus originated here—from us. Although, many people believe that the Father of Christmas is living at the top of North Pole. Santa's place is defined as a town where elves who're prepare and manufacturing gifts for Santa Claus to deliver. These story somehow passes over years. But where can we find the exact location of North Pole? Well, science is here to explain.

The Earth is a Sphere and it Doesn't have Top and Bottom

The north pole is the top of the Earth, and the south pole is the bottom, of course. Except that the earth is kind of a ball, and they don't really have tops and bottoms. Granted, the Earth isn't exactly spherical and it's spinning through space. Spinning about an imaginary axis of rotation. One of the points where that axis goes through the earth. Right there in the Arctic Ocean—where the Russians planted their flag on the sea floor in 2007, is called the north pole—or rather, it's the "geographic" north pole.

Image of Earth's imaginary axis, geographic and magnetic poles.

Because, just like there are different definitions for what a "year" is, there are different north poles.

  • Tropical year - 365.242 days
  • Sidereal year - 365.256 days
  • Anomalistic year - 365.260 days

Geographic and Electromagnetic North Pole

For example, compasses don't point to the geographic, or spinning-top, north pole. They point to the MAGNETIC north pole. Which is incidentally a magnetic south pole since opposites attract. The magnetic north (actually south) pole and south (actually north) pole are an electromagnet caused by swirling convection currents in the Earth's liquid iron outer core. These currents are heavily influenced by the rotation of the Earth. So, the magnetic field they generate roughly aligns with the Earth's axis of rotation. But not precisely, and not unchangingly.

A hundred years ago, the magnetic north pole was located in northern Canada (year 1904). Over 2000km south of the geographic north pole. And it's been moving consistently north-west since then. Which is currently sitting in the middle of the Arctic Ocean—450km south of the geographic north pole, and drifting about 55 kilometers closer to Russia each year.

Earth's Magnetic Fields are Not the Same as a Straight Bar of Magnet

What's more, the magnetic south pole is not on the exact opposite side of the Earth. From the magnetic north pole—it drifts around in a somewhat independent fashion and is currently 20° closer to the equator than magnetic north! Such is the nature of magnetic fields generated by confusingly swirly molten iron deep inside the Earth.

But if you imagined, instead, that there were just a giant, perfect bar magnet inside the Earth. Then, that perfect bar magnet would point towards the geo-magnetic north pole. Which is currently located in Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, Canada. This pole, together with the geomagnetic south pole. Which is on the exact opposite side of the Earth. Represents the general, overall trend of the Earth's magnetic field. Especially, as it extends into space.

What is Your Purpose of Tracking Down North Pole?

Image of North Pole Aurora

So while it's not at all useful for compass navigation on the Earth's surface. It does heavily influence the paths of solar wind particles that cause the aurora—that is, the northern lights.

In short, the north pole's whereabouts depend on what you care about.

  • The Earth spins like a top around the "geographic" north pole.
  • Compasses point to the "magnetic" north pole (which is actually a magnetic south pole)
  • And the northern lights are strongest in a ring around the "geomagnetic" north pole (also a magnetic south pole).

All three north poles move, too—the magnetic and geomagnetic poles change quite drastically. But, even the geographic north pole moves up to ten meters a year as the Earth wobbles on its axis due to seasonal air pressure differences across the globe, melting ice caps, and so on.

North Pole Has No Permanent Address

Assuming that the Russians planted their flag exactly at the geographic north pole in August 2007, not once since then has it been exactly at the pole.

  • It was as far as 12 meters away in 2009.
  • And as close as 20 cm in 2010.
  • Right now it's about 3 and a half meters away.

Basically, The Earth is doing the biggest, slowest, pole dance ever around the Russian flag.

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