The Remarkable Journey of Earth’s Magnetic North Pole: A Detailed Exploration

Randy Quill

Updated on:

Earth’s magnetic field, a fascinating and complex aspect of our planet’s geography, is constantly changing. Over time, the North and South Magnetic Poles’ positions alter, leading to a variation in the magnetic declination—the angle between magnetic North and true North—at a given location. This transformative journey of the North Magnetic Pole, along with the Earth’s magnetic history, holds significant intrigue for geoscientists worldwide.

Understanding the Shift of Magnetic Poles

The North Magnetic Pole was first discovered in northern Canada in 1831 by Sir James Clark Ross. Since then, it has been gradually traversing across the Canadian Arctic toward Russia. According to the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) and the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder, the movement of both the North and South Magnetic Poles has been calculated from 1590 to 2025 using two models: gufm1 and the International Geomagnetic Reference Field (IGRF).

The gufm1 model incorporates thousands of magnetic observations taken by mariners engaged in merchant and naval shipping, while the IGRF is a collaborative effort between magnetic field modelers and institutes involved in collecting and disseminating magnetic field data from satellites and surveys worldwide.

Documenting the Pole’s Movement

Scientists, through an international collaboration between Canadian and French researchers, found in 2007 that the North Magnetic Pole was moving approximately north-northwest at 55 km per year. However, according to the latest IGRF, the Pole’s speed has reduced slightly and is currently moving in the same direction at about 45 km per year.

YearApproximate LocationMovement DirectionSpeed (km/year)Source
1590Near Baffin Island, CanadaSouth-SoutheastEstimated 10Geological evidence
1831Northern CanadaSouth-SoutheastEstimated 10Sir James Clark Ross
2007Canadian ArcticNorth-Northwest55Canadian–French Collaboration
2019Canadian ArcticNorth-Northwest45IGRF
2025 (Predicted)Approaching RussiaNorth-NorthwestTBDIGRF
Again, it’s important to remember that the earlier positions and movements are approximations based on historical data and geological evidence, so they may not be precise. The speed of movement for those years is also difficult to ascertain, hence an estimation is provided.

Using the historical data back to 1590 available with the Map Viewer, NCEI and CIRES scientists created an animation showing changes in declination location and the “wandering” of the North Magnetic Pole over the last 50 years. The convergence of isogonic lines at the Pole is a captivating sight to behold.

Plates, Polarity, and Synchronicity: A Glimpse Into Earth’s Magnetic History

Over its existence, Earth’s magnetic field has been slowly changing. When tectonic plates form along the oceanic ridges, the prevailing magnetic field is “frozen” into the rocks as they cool below about 700°C. These slowly moving plates act like a tape recorder, preserving information about the strength and direction of past magnetic fields.

Magnetic PolesEarth’s magnetic field has North and South magnetic poles, different from geographical poles.
Magnetic DeclinationThe angle between Magnetic North and True North at a given location, changes over time due to the shift in Magnetic Poles.
Magnetic Pole ShiftThe North Magnetic Pole has been moving from Canada towards Russia at a reduced speed of approximately 45 km per year.
Causes of Pole ShiftThis shift is likely due to geomagnetic pulses and the flow of liquid iron beneath Earth’s crust.
Implications of Pole ShiftThe shifting pole causes the World Magnetic Model (used for navigation) to be updated more frequently.
Historical ObservationsRecords indicate the movement of the magnetic poles dating back to 1590.
Tools for ObservationsThe gufm1 and IGRF models are used to calculate and predict the movement of Magnetic Poles.
Geomagnetic Pole ReversalOccurs when the Magnetic North and South Poles reverse or “flip”. The last reversal happened about 780,000 years ago.
Impact of Pole ReversalScientists assure that geomagnetic pole reversals, although slow processes, pose no immediate threat to Earth’s environment or life.
This table presents key facts about Earth’s magnetic field, the movement of magnetic poles, and the implications of these phenomena. Understanding these insights can further our knowledge about the planet’s dynamic nature.

Through sampling these rocks and using radiometric dating techniques, scientists have managed to reconstruct the history of Earth’s magnetic field for approximately the last 160 million years. Playing this “tape” backwards reveals that Earth’s magnetic field has gone through periods of strengthening, weakening, and often changing polarity.

Geomagnetic Pole Reversal: A Fascinating Phenomenon

One of the most fascinating aspects of Earth’s magnetic field is the phenomenon of geomagnetic pole reversal. This is when the Magnetic North and South Poles reverse or “flip”. These pole reversals have happened throughout Earth’s history, with the last one occurring about 780,000 years ago.

Though the notion of pole flips may sound alarming, scientists assure us that they pose no immediate threat. Pole flips are slow processes that can take a long time to occur. Furthermore, based on evidence from previous flips, scientists have determined that there’s no substantial change to Earth’s environment and no imminent threat to life due to a pole flip.

The shifting of Earth’s Magnetic North Pole and the history of Earth’s magnetic field underscore the dynamic nature of our planet. As we continue to monitor and learn from these changes, we gain invaluable insights into our world’s intricate mechanisms, reinforcing the importance of constant exploration and study.

— Sources:

Leave a Comment