Understanding the Earth's Two North Poles

The North Pole

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Earth is home to two North Poles, both located in the Arctic region: the geographic North Pole and the magnetic North Pole.

Geographic North Pole

The northernmost point on the Earth's surface is the geographic North Pole, also known as True North. It is located at 90° North latitude but it has no specific line of longitude since all lines of longitude converge at the pole. The Earth's axis runs through the North and South poles and it is the line around which the Earth rotates.

The geographic North Pole is located approximately 450 miles (725 km) north of Greenland, in the middle of the Arctic Ocean: the sea there has a depth of 13,410 feet (4087 meters). Most of the time, sea ice covers the North Pole, but recently, water has been sighted around the exact location of the pole.

All Points Are South

If you are standing at the North Pole, all points are south of you (east and west have no meaning at the North Pole). While the Earth's rotation takes place once every 24 hours, the speed of rotation is different based on where one is on the planet. At the Equator, one would travel 1,038 miles per hour; someone at the North Pole, on the other, hand, travels very slowly, barely moving at all.

The lines of longitude that establish our time zones are so close at the North Pole that time zones are meaningless; thus, the Arctic region uses UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) when local time is necessary at the North Pole.

Due to the tilt of the Earth's axis, the North Pole experiences six months of daylight from March 21 through September 21 and six months of darkness from September 21 through March 21.

Magnetic North Pole

Located about 250 miles south of the geographic North Pole lies the magnetic North Pole at approximately 86.3° North and 160° West (2015), northwest of Canada's Sverdrup Island. However, this location is not fixed and is moving continually, even on a daily basis. The Earth's magnetic North Pole is the focus of the planet's magnetic field and is the point that traditional magnetic compasses point toward. Compasses are also subject to magnetic declination, which is a result of the Earth's varied magnetic field.

Each year, the magnetic North Pole and the magnetic field shift, requiring those using magnetic compasses for navigation to be keenly aware of the difference between Magnetic North and True North.

The magnetic pole was first determined in 1831, hundreds of miles from its present location. The Canadian National Geomagnetic Program monitors the movement of the magnetic North Pole.

The magnetic North Pole moves on a daily basis, too. Every day, there's an elliptical movement of the magnetic pole about 50 miles (80 kilometers) from its average center point.

Who Reached the North Pole First?

Robert Peary, his partner Matthew Henson, and four Inuit are generally credited with being the first to reach the geographic North Pole on April 9, 1909 (although many suspects they missed the exact North Pole by a few miles).

In 1958, the United States nuclear submarine Nautilus was the first vessel to cross the Geographic North Pole. Today, dozens of planes fly over the North Pole using great circle routes between continents.

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Your Citation
Rosenberg, Matt. "Understanding the Earth's Two North Poles." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/the-north-pole-1435098. Rosenberg, Matt. (2023, April 5). Understanding the Earth's Two North Poles. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/the-north-pole-1435098 Rosenberg, Matt. "Understanding the Earth's Two North Poles." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/the-north-pole-1435098 (accessed May 29, 2023).