Domain Registration

Russia is ‘stealing’ the north magnetic pole from Canada

  • May 06, 2021

Article content

Or, at least, we used to. Because I have bone-chilling news for all of you. In recent years, for reasons we don’t fully understand, the Magnetic North Pole has been fleeing the sublime liberty of the Maple Leaf in order to take up residence in Russia.

As of 2020, Magnetic North is right around here: Still in international waters, but clearly making a beeline for Siberia. If it keeps moving at its current pace, roughly 55 kilometres per year, the magnetic pole will make landfall in Russia right around 2050, just in time for Putin’s ninth term as president. 

Artist’s impression.

This is quite a black eye for a country that has been home to magnetic north since we can remember, and who proudly puts magnetic north on its official maps.

The first time a human being stood on what they knew to be the magnetic north pole was in 1831. James Clark Ross was looking for Sir John Franklin around the Boothia Peninsula when he found it, and this location of magnetic north would officially become Canadian territory in 1880.

Unlike the actual north pole (which Canada weirdly claims is also ours by publishing maps pretending to own a giant triangle of international waters) magnetic north has always moved around a little bit. The reasons for this aren’t fully understood, but the earth is basically a big ball of liquid rock and metal with a thin crusty part that we all live on. If all that molten planet shifts a bit more vigorously than usual, it moves the magnetic field around.

A map by the SAS Institute showing the sharp drift of the north magnetic pole in recent years. Photo by Robert Allison/SAS Institute

For most of the 20th century, magnetic north only moved about 11 kilometres per year, following a lazy path around the Canadian Arctic archipelago. As recently as 2007, when the guys from Top Gear set out to drive a specially equipped truck to magnetic north, their whole trip from beginning to end was in either Canadian territory or Canadian waters.

But by then, magnetic north had already begun its all-out drive across the Arctic Circle. As to why, NASA thinks climate change might be a reason: The Arctic has lost 278 gigatonnes of ice in the last 20 years, and when you take that much weight off all at once it shouldn’t be completely surprising that it’s freeing up the ground beneath to shift around a bit more freely than usual. 

Related News