North Poles: Hold Your Compasses Tight For The Earth Has Four Of Them

by Madonna Watts D'Souza

North Poles: Hold Your Compasses Tight For The Earth Has Four Of Them

March 31, 2021

The North Pole Star is one of the most infamous twinkling stars out there. But it looks like we need three more 'North Stars' because the earth, it turns out, has FOUR North Poles.

The word “North” is not new music to anyone’s ears. You’ve heard it everywhere- in science lessons (obviously), while travelling, watching everyone pledge their loyalty to the “King in the North” in Game of Thrones, or when Kim Kardashian named her baby girl North.

However, the most popular definition of the ‘north’ would be a cardinal direction necessary for every animal and vessel navigation. On this note, if you were asked about how many north(s) does the earth have, you would naturally say – one. Of course, we’ll have people who love to be unconventional and will answer two.

But the correct answer is that the earth has FOUR north poles! Now, you might wonder- how can the Arctic thrive being the epicentre of four North Poles? Or is the Arctic not the only location for some North Poles? And what exactly are the Four North Poles?

Let’s start by saying that the two most famous poles are the Geographic North Pole and the Magnetic North Pole. But there are two more – the Geomagnetic North Pole and the Northern Pole of Inaccessibility.

Location of the North Magnetic Pole and the North Geomagnetic pole in 2017, shown on a map together with the geographic north pole. Pole positions are from IGRF-12.

The Geographic North Pole

This is the north pole which is most famously known as the “True North Pole.” It is the point at the northern extreme of the earth where all latitudes meet and converge. This is the topmost point of the imaginary axis on which the earth rotates, just like a spindle. However, does our this true North shift?

Despite being marked on many globes and maps, the Geographic North Pole, as well as the Geographic South Pole, aren’t fixed points. The reason? Well, the earth isn’t a perfect sphere but more like ellipsoid, literally a fancy name for a 3-D elliptical figure. Moreover, the earth is flat at poles and bulges at the Equator. This figure makes the earth wobble slightly during the rotation period.

So the previously thought fixed poles actually move around in the polar regions. Astronomer Seth Carlo Chandler confirmed this irregularity of the earth’s rotation in 1891. To make matters even more unsafe, the earth’s Geographic North lies in the ocean rather than on an ice sheet, unlike the Geographic South Pole is a little more stable with its location on a bulky ice sheet.

Earth's northern magnetic pole is moving quickly away from the Canadian Arctic toward Siberia.

The Magnetic North Pole

This is the north pole to which many of our compasses naturally point at. While it may seem fancy in a somewhat sardonic sense to have a pocket compass and watch its red needlepoint to the North, many people assume that the Magnetic North and the Geographic North coincide. But that’s not true at all.

The earth’s magnetic field originates with the earth’s rotation. Earth’s inner core comprises hot and solid metals like iron and nickel, while the outer body is more like a thick liquid. Both of these cores spin at different paces during the earth’s rotation. This acts like a bar magnet, and hence, their exact position isn’t with the Geographic North and South. Therefore, the Magnetic North Pole is roughly within a 500-mile radius of the Geographic North Pole.

However, the magnetic North does move and moves fast. The earth’s magnetic field mysteriously flips due to reasons that virtually unknown. Sounds amazing right? What’s even more astounding is that these magnetic flips happen randomly. Previous geological events have indicated that earth’s magnetic field has flipped 183 times, with the most recent one being 780,000 years ago.

Right now the Magnetic North has moved forward. So far, all we know is that the earth’s Magnetic North has crossed the Greenwich Meridian and is headed towards Russia. It looks like humanity will be able to witness the unimaginable reversing of the magnetic poles.

The Geomagnetic North Pole

Northern Lights
An aurora, sometimes referred to as polar lights, northern lights, or southern lights, is a natural light display in the Earth's sky, predominantly seen in high-latitude regions.

The magnetic field generated by the action in earth’s core isn’t limited to the planet. Earth’s magnetic field is so robust that it extends far into space. This field is called the magnetosphere. The magnetosphere is shaped like a teardrop. It is 64,000 km wide at the side facing the sun and narrow towards the opposite side.

This geomagnetic field is a massive shield that protects the fragile life on earth. The magnetosphere deflects harmful energies like solar wind and cosmic rays – positively charged particles lethal to the planet if they enter the atmosphere in large volumes. The field, as unique as it is, isn’t a perfect dipole.

The geomagnetic poles are the points where the axis of the magnetosphere passes through the earth. Unlike the other two poles, the Geomagnetic Poles have been relatively stable for several years. The Geomagnetic North Pole is located on Ellesmere Island in Nunavut, a region in northern Canada. The Geomagnetic North Pole is also where we witness the aurora borealis or the Northern Lights’ mind-blowing phenomenon.

The Northern Pole of Inaccessibility

The Northern Pole of Inaccessibility sounds like a concept straight out from a Pirates of the Caribbean film, but it’s a fact. If you type in the following coordinates – 85 degrees, 48 minutes North Latitude and 176 Degrees, 9 Minutes West Longitude, you will find the ‘No Man’s Land’.

Poles of inaccessibility are geographers’ demonstration about a region of the earth which no one can access. These regions can be the highest, the lowest, the loneliest, and the deepest. The Poles of Inaccessibility are regions on the earth that are farthest away from the coast if you measure their distance from the land or sea. These poles are not present only in one region, but every continent and every ocean has its pole of inaccessibility.

And now that we think about it, maybe voyagers could find Santa Claus in one of these poles. After all, many of us, at some point in time, had set out on a journey to confront Santa about the gift that we got being different from what we wanted.


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