Climate change and the moving north pole: science and fairy tales


“Did you hear that climate change is even affecting the position of the north pole? Is that true?”, I was asked yesterday. And today, I found in my twitter feed:

The movie clip is pretty impressive. And the graphic in the article indicated even more:


Before 2000, Earth’s spin axis was drifting toward Canada (left globe). Climate change-driven ice loss in Greenland, Antarctica and elsewhere is pulling the direction of drift eastward.
Credit: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory


My father was professor in geodesy, and some topics, like earth rotation, earth magnetism, plate tectonics were among those topics that I found fascinating – and  I still love them. The north pole moves anywhay, so what’s happening?

How big can this impact possibly be?

Short answer: Very, very small. Yes, we already have and we will have more climate change induced problems. But the drift of the north pole is none of them.


Below, we see in graphic A [1] that the north pole is moving in the direction south-east (towards London) for the years 2003-2015, with a good correspondence between the observed and the calculated values; graphic B allows us to make an estimate of the magnitude of the movement.



A rough estimate tells us that the change between 2003 to 2015 is 40 milliarcseconds (MAS). This corresponds to a change  in the rotation axis of 0,00001 degrees [2], or a movement of around 10 cm[3]. Some further comments: It is not new that the earts always wobbles a bit, the rotation axis is not stable; the north pole also moves a bit, a couple of centimeters a year. What is new is that the north pole has now a new average moving direction. And, btw, this has nothing to do with the meagnetic north pole.

Graphic A: Reconstruction was done using different models based on:  AOM: (nontidal) atmospheric and oceanic mass;  AIS, GIS and GICs: different areas that describe and combine the cryosphere;
TWS: area of the continental hydrosphere.

[1] Surendra Adhikari and Erik R. Ivins, Climate-driven polar motion: 2003–2015, Climatology, 2016  


[3] reader’s comment on the article from Climate Central.