Movement of the poles

11 July, 2010

It was a beautiful clear summer day over the North Pole. You can see ice covering most of the Arctic Ocean with a few leads of open water (dark) starting to open up.
It was a beautiful clear summer day over the North Pole. You can see ice covering most of the Arctic Ocean with a few leads of open water (dark) starting to open up. AP: Arabian Peninsula, CS: Caspian Sea, H: Himalayan Mountains, L: Lena River, A: Australia, J: Japan, P: Pacific Ocean.
Image: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University
Source: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

Question: I have an old map that shows the geographic North Pole and have heard that the Pole has shifted since 1987 due to a major earthquake. Can you tell me how far has the North Pole shifted in distance and degrees so that I can plot it on my map?

Answer: The geographic North Pole does move by a very small amount because Earth’s motion is not precisely regular and has small wobbles. These are occurring all the time and are caused by a range of factors. One of the most well known is the Chandler Wobble, caused by the non-spherical and fluid nature of (much of) the Earth. The Pole usually moves nearly 1m over the course of a year and can move from its ‘usual’ spot by as much as about 10m at any given time. Major weather events or earthquakes can cause a very small shift. Such shifts are often just estimated, rather than being directly measured and even a 10m variation would not make any difference to maps at any but the largest scale.

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