As travel milestones go, witnessing the tranquility and stillness of the North Pole ranks high on any explorer’s list. Amidst its polar serenity, the waters here harbor a secret: There is more than one North Pole. And PONANT is eager to take you to two of them. Join us for a thrilling Arctic expedition full of surprises … and find your own True North.
One of the earliest renderings of the North Pole appeared in 1595, in a painstakingly hand-drawn collection of maps created by cartographer Gerardus Mercator. It may not have been the first and most comprehensive book of its kind, but it was the most artistically stunning volume of maps ever produced. It was also the first compendium of its kind to be called an “atlas.”
In it, the North Pole is a circular rocky island straddling the tip of the globe. The island forms a ring around a lagoon, in the dead center of which all lines of longitude meet. Four rivers cut the ring-island into almost equal pie slices, connecting the lagoon to the larger sea around. It was all, of course, pure speculation.
Even without knowing what it looked like or where it was, humans have wrapped the most northerly point of the earth in legend, religious belief, and of course an explorer’s imagination. Ancient Greeks associated the far north with the Hyperboreans, a mythical people believed to have founded Apollo’s shrines at Delos and Delphi. Mandaeans, an ethnoreligious group of the Middle East that still worship today, associate the North Pole with a sacred World of Light. In the same way that Muslims face toward Mecca during prayer, Mandaeans face toward the North Pole.
And of course, children imagine the North Pole as a place where reindeer fly and elves build toys. The Canadian post office has even given it a distinctive postal code that echoes the laugh of its most famous resident: HOH OHO.
The Discovery of Two North Poles
By the 16th century, the quest to set foot on the North Pole began. During those early days, it was widely believed that its position was a fixed point. And once the concept of longitude had been established among navigators, that fixed point was understood to be where all the south-to-north longitudinal lines met – at 90˚N.
In the middle of the 18th century, geographer, astronomer, and mathematician Leonhard Euler threw this “fixed point” theory off its axis, literally. To grasp his concept, think of a rod running through the earth’s core from the South Pole to the North Pole. Before Euler came along, the rod was thought to have met the earth’s northern surface at a singular point. But Euler’s studies led him to believe that the earth’s axis wobbles slightly. If that was true, then the North Pole was not fixed at all. A wobbling axis would suggest that the point at which that rod meets earth’s surface varies. The North Pole, Euler believed, moved.
Just how much it moved was unclear, until the early 20th century. That’s when scientists began building on the work of American astronomer Seth Carlo Chandler, who had picked up on Euler’s theory. “Chandler’s Wobble,” as the phenomenon was later called, occurs because of the gravitational pull of various other celestial bodies in the earth’s neighborhood.
With it, the North Pole’s location changes about 30 feet over a period of around 433 days. As the earths’ axis shifts, so does the magnetic field in the planet’s outer core. It’s this Magnetic North Pole – this wandering pole, if you will – that attracts the needles on our old-fashioned pocket compasses.
Join PONANT for Incredible Expeditions to the North Poles
So let’s crystallize it all for you: Since the discovery of Chandler’s Wobble, it’s been understood that there are two North Poles. The True North Pole is purely geographic in origin, located where the longitudinal lines converge in the Arctic. The Magnetic North Pole varies, depending on the effects of Chandler’s Wobble.
Remarkably, in 1904, the Magnetic North Pole was measured to be near 70˚N longitude in the Nunavut territory on Canadian land. It has since tracked northward and is moving across the Arctic Sea to Siberia.
PONANT offers two ways for you to witness the North Poles on our elegant Arctic expeditions. Le Commandant Charcot, the only luxury icebreaker in the world, takes you in search of the Geographic North Pole on 2023 and 2024 sailings. And, if you prefer to seek out both poles and learn more about Chandler’s Wobble, join our Transarctic Quest for the Two North Poles.