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What is the Difference Between the North Pole and Magnetic North Pole?

Earth's magnetic poles differ from its geographic poles.
Magnetic compasses point to the Magnetic North Pole.
Solar particles slipping into the pole cusp create the northern lights.
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  • Written By: R. Kayne
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 20 October 2014
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The difference between the North Pole and the Magnetic North Pole is that the former is a geographic pole with a stationary location at 90° North. This geographic North Pole, also known as true north, is the fixed northernmost point on earth from which all points lie south. The magnetic pole is not based on true north, but on the magnetosphere of the planet. It lies hundreds of miles (kilometers) from true north, with its exact position constantly shifting.

Roughly analogous to a magnet, the Earth generates a magnetosphere through magnetic north and south poles. The magnetosphere forms a large, charged field around the earth, with pinched funnels or cusps at each pole. The Magnetic North Pole marks the point where the magnetic field feeds downwards to Earth at a 90° angle, relative to the surface. As solar wind particles blast towards earth, most are deflected by the magnetosphere. Some solar particles, however, slip into the pole cusp, creating the aurora, or Northern Lights over Canada.

As the magnetic field shifts, the exact position of the Magnetic North Pole migrates. It is moving so fast, that in 2005 the BBC reported some scientists projected that it would be over Siberia by 2055. Other scientists believe the migration recorded to date could be part of an oscillation pattern that will ultimately have the pole shifting back towards Canada.

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The position of the Magnetic North Pole was first calculated and recorded in 1831. By 1904, it had moved some 31 miles (50km). The Geological Survey of Canada determined its average 2001 position as being 81.3° North, by 110.8° West, moving northwest at a rate of about 25 miles (40km) per year.

Magnetic compasses point to the Magnetic North Pole versus true north. This isn’t of great concern for most people, but those traveling in Arctic regions must take the position of the Magnetic North Pole into consideration for an accurate calculation of true position. If possible, a better tool for navigation would be a global positioning system (GPS).

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Reminiscence
Post 1

I remember when I was a Boy Scout we were always taught to adjust for magnetic north on a compass. The compass needle would always point off to the left of the North setting, so we'd twist the dial until the N matched up with where the needle was pointing. I don't think it really made that much of a difference when hiking through the woods, but I suppose a big ship on the open ocean would need to know that sort of thing.

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