Skip to comments.Canada no longer the true north?
Posted on 03/19/2002 12:16:17 PM PST by Oxylus
Wandering pole: Scientists predict Mag North will leave our territory by 2005
When Scene in the Northwest, a painting by the explorer and artist Paul Kane, was sold to an unnamed Canadian buyer in Toronto for more than $5-million on Feb. 25, Canada reclaimed a work of art commemorating an important event in her history: the 19th-century quest for the North Magnetic Pole.
But new data suggests the Magnetic Pole will soon be leaving Canadian territory and heading for Russia.
Estimates say that the pole, known as Mag North, has been in what is now Canada for at least four centuries. Since then, in a process known as "geomagnetic jerk," it has shifted with a wobbling and wandering course, but consistently farther north. According to the latest charts of the Geological Survey of Canada, it will leave Canadian territory in as few as three years.
The North Magnetic Pole was first pinpointed in 1831. Kane's painting dates to the same era; it depicts a British surveyor, John Henry Lefroy, on his 1843-44 trek to the pole. Lefroy was not the first to find it, but he accomplished something much more important.
Lefroy did the first systematic geomagnetic survey of what is now Western Canada, providing information about how the magnetic field varies across North America. He also made the first measurements of the strength of the magnetic field.
Another Brit first tracked down Mag North, in 1831. James Clarke Ross had crossed a central Arctic landscape of blue ice ridges and pans in which his ship, the Victory, was stuck. He was waiting for rescue and began searching for Mag North partly to pass the time. When Ross got there on June 2, 1831, he planted the Union Jack. "This is the place," he wrote in his journal, "that Nature has chosen as the centre of one of her great and dark powers."
The North Magnetic Pole is where Earth's magnetic field points straight down; there, a compass needle points down at the ground to Earth's centre. If you follow a compass needle north, you will end up at Mag North.
Ancient mariners believed the source of attraction for compasses, and for unlucky ships that strayed too close, was a magnetic mountain made of lodestone or iron. Sir William Gilbert, Queen Elizabeth I's doctor, came up with a better theory in 1600, the gist of which is still held today: that Earth is a giant magnet and that the force comes from inside the core.
Earth's magnetism has a long and varied history. Columbus is usually credited with the discovery, in 1492, that the compass needle rarely points to true north, and that the angle of difference between true and magnetic north -- called magnetic declination -- must be charted and taken into account when plotting courses across the ocean or -- later --through the air.
Initially it was believed that Mag North was stationary. But then some instrument makers and mathematicians noticed that compass measurements taken over time from the same place didn't match. In 1580, William Borough, in his Discourse on the Variation of the Compas or Magneticall Needle, calculated the declination in Limehouse, England, to be 11.25 degrees East. Forty years later, the declination from the same place was measured at a mere 6 degrees East.
"It's always moving," says Larry Newitt, a senior geophysicist at the Geological Survey of Canada. "It can move as much as 60 to 100 kilometres in a day."
This makes the task of surveying Mag North's whereabouts difficult. "The point of surveying is to map where it is," Mr. Newitt says, "but in order to map it we have to know where it is. We know approximately where it is. So what we try to do is get observations around it. The procedure is to try to surround the pole. But it is a bit of a circuitous undertaking."
Mag North moves because Earth's magnetic field moves. It emanates from a molten core of iron bubbling like soup 5,000 km below our feet, and moves with the rotation of Earth and under the influence of particles from the sun.
Before pinpointing the pole, Mr. Newitt must get himself to Resolute Bay, a remote northerly outpost with a population of 200. From there he loads his equipment on a chartered Twin Otter and flies to the estimated vicinity of Mag North. It is now at the co-ordinates of 81 degrees 3' N and 110 degrees 8' W -- about 200 km off the northern tip of Ellef Ringnes Island in the Arctic Ocean. Due to this watery destination, Mr. Newitt must make his trip to the pole in early spring, when the worst of winter is over but the ice is still solid.
On top of the magnetic pole, there is no crackling or quivering of every cell in your body, at least not in Mr. Newitt's experience. "It's totally imperceptible," he says, though some people believe Mag North possesses mystical powers. Couples have sought it out when trying to conceive. On his 1984 surveying trip, Mr. Newitt met two honeymooners who had camped out in Resolute Bay for weeks trying to hitch a ride to the pole. He declined, saying, "You can't really take hitchhikers on a government-paid-for plane."
The presence of that couple, points, however, to a side effect of the presence of the pole in the Canadian north: the economic boost to Resolute Bay. "Polar bear hunters, ski parties, cruise ships: We get a good few tourists coming in from April through the summer who go see Mag North or the North Pole," says Ralph Alexander, senior administrative officer of Resolute Bay. "They stay in the local hotels. Local people are hired for charters. It provides a reasonable income for the town."
Mr. Alexander, though, is not worried about Mag North's departure from the area. The other mysteries and attractions of the North, such as Santa's North Pole, endure.
Mr. Newitt's analysis of survey data is published every five years by the Geological Survey of Canada in a chart called the Canadian Geomagnetic Reference Field. This mapping of Mag North provides an essential tool for navigation, even now, with the widespread use of electronic global positioning systems based on satellite transmissions. In fact, GPS systems often use the old-fashioned magnetic declination measurements, which are programmed into the GPS software. And if the electronic systems fail you will want a compass and a map with the Mag North conversion factor, as navigational instruments of last resort.
By Mr. Newitt's measurements, the pole had previously been determined to be moving in a generally northwesterly direction at an average speed of 10 km per year. But according to his latest survey from last May, the pole is now moving away at 40 km per year.
"I find it interesting that it's starting to move so darned fast," he says. "This tells us that the Earth's magnetic field is a very dynamic thing."
At its current velocity, Mag North will move out of Canada's waters by 2005, and if it continues on its present path, it will be just off the coast of Siberia in about 50 years. "Of course," Mr. Newitt adds, given the North Magnetic Pole's erratic movements, "there is no reason to expect it will."
But, then again, who the h**l cares what's stolen from Canada. (It appears even the Canadianainaininainanas don't where they put it last...... Eh, argh?)
Anyway, just keep your tinfoil hat hunkered down tight.
Now that's my kinda talk.
Thanks, you made me laugh. (I like it too!, hee, hee)
B_S_! The Magnetic Pole is in Amercia. Everyone knows the world revolves around US!
Scientists predict Mag North will leave our territory by 2005.
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Should we ping the rest of them?
Just another pole shift on the way. It have happened before.
I tried, but my ping headed off in the wrong direction! ;’)
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