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The difference between the North Pole and the Magnetic North Pole is that the former is a geographic pole with a stationary location at 90° North. This geographic North Pole, also known as true north, is the fixed northernmost point on earth from which all points lie south. The magnetic pole is not based on true north, but on the magnetosphere of the planet. It lies hundreds of miles (kilometers) from true north, with its exact position constantly shifting.
Roughly analogous to a magnet, the Earth generates a magnetosphere through magnetic north and south poles. The magnetosphere forms a large, charged field around the earth, with pinched funnels or cusps at each pole. The Magnetic North Pole marks the point where the magnetic field feeds downwards to Earth at a 90° angle, relative to the surface. As solar wind particles blast towards earth, most are deflected by the magnetosphere. Some solar particles, however, slip into the pole cusp, creating the aurora, or Northern Lights over Canada.
As the magnetic field shifts, the exact position of the Magnetic North Pole migrates. It is moving so fast, that in 2005 the BBC reported some scientists projected that it would be over Siberia by 2055. Other scientists believe the migration recorded to date could be part of an oscillation pattern that will ultimately have the pole shifting back towards Canada.
The position of the Magnetic North Pole was first calculated and recorded in 1831. By 1904, it had moved some 31 miles (50km). The Geological Survey of Canada determined its average 2001 position as being 81.3° North, by 110.8° West, moving northwest at a rate of about 25 miles (40km) per year.
Magnetic compasses point to the Magnetic North Pole versus true north. This isn’t of great concern for most people, but those traveling in Arctic regions must take the position of the Magnetic North Pole into consideration for an accurate calculation of true position. If possible, a better tool for navigation would be a global positioning system (GPS).
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the geographic North Pole?
The geographic North Pole, also known as the True North Pole, is the northernmost point on Earth, where the planet's axis of rotation intersects its surface. It is a fixed location at 90 degrees north latitude, where all longitudinal lines converge. Unlike the magnetic North Pole, it does not shift and is used as a constant reference point for navigation and geography.
What is the magnetic North Pole and how does it differ from the geographic North Pole?
The magnetic North Pole is the point on the Earth's surface where its magnetic field points vertically downwards. Unlike the geographic North Pole, the magnetic North Pole is not a fixed location; it wanders due to changes in the Earth's magnetic field. This movement can be significant, with the magnetic North Pole shifting as much as 40 miles per year, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information.
Why does the magnetic North Pole move?
The magnetic North Pole moves due to changes in the Earth's molten outer core, which generates the planet's magnetic field. The flow of liquid iron within this outer core is dynamic and constantly changing, leading to variations in the magnetic field. These changes can cause the magnetic North Pole to drift, a phenomenon that has been observed and recorded by scientists for centuries.
How do navigators compensate for the difference between the North Pole and the magnetic North Pole?
Navigators compensate for the difference between the geographic and magnetic North Poles by using magnetic declination, which is the angle between magnetic north and true north at a particular location. Maps and navigation tools include information on the local magnetic declination, which must be taken into account when using a compass to ensure accurate navigation. This data is regularly updated to reflect the shifting position of the magnetic North Pole.
Can the magnetic North Pole affect technology and daily life?
Yes, the magnetic North Pole can affect technology and daily life, particularly in navigation and communication systems that rely on Earth's magnetic field. For instance, compasses need to be recalibrated to account for its movement, and GPS systems must be updated to maintain accuracy. The shifting pole can also influence the aurora borealis, potentially changing the locations where these lights can be seen.