What is the Geographic (True) North Pole?

The Earth rotates on the geographic north and south poles. The geographic north and south poles are where lines of longitude (meridians) converge in the north. The south and north pole are directly opposite to one another.

The North Pole is located in the middle of the Arctic Ocean. Scientists have tried marking the North pole. Because the water here is permanently covered with moving sea ice, it’s practically impossible to construct any type of permanent station at the true North Pole.

On the other side of the Earth, the South Pole lies on a continental land mass known as Antarctica. Because the ice on top of Antarctica moves only a few meters a year, the United States Antarctica program has installed a marker here to delineate the true South Pole.

Geographic (True) North Pole

Geographic (True) North Pole

The question is:

Where would a compass needle point if you were standing on the true North Pole?

If you were standing on the geographic north pole holding your compass, it would point towards northern Canada at Ellesmere Island. This is a difference of about 500 kilometers between the Geographic North and Magnetic North poles!

This difference is called the magnetic inclination. Magnetic deviation is the error of a compass needle including nearby metallic objects.

Magnetic inclination varies according to where you are located on the globe. In order to point you in the right directions, users can compensate for magnetic inclination by using charts of declination or local calibration.

The difference today is about 500 kilometers. But the Magnetic North Pole is actually moving kilometers every year. This phenomenon is known as the Polar Shift Theory.

Polar Shift Theory: Earth’s Ever-Changing Magnetic North Pole
Magnetic North Shift
Magnetic North Shift (Image courtesy of NOAA)

The world we live on is dynamic. Earth is changing every day.

Plate tectonics push continents apart, sea levels fluctuate up and down, volcanoes erupt discharging ash and smoke…

These are examples of natural phenomena that occur in cycles and are dynamic on our planet. The location of our magnetic north is really no different.

Over the last 150 years, the magnetic pole has crept north over 1000 kilometers. Scientists suggest it migrates about 10 kilometers per year and can even flip from pole-to-pole. Lately, the speed has accelerated to about 40 kilometers per year and could reach Siberia in a few decades.

NOAA’s historical declination map shows lines of constant magnetic declination (isogonic lines). Isogonic lines are an indication for what direction compass needles will point – along the lines of magnetic force.