Solar Storms and You!

Activity 8: Motion of the Magnetic Pole


The Magnetic North Pole has been charted over the past several hundred years. The pole shifts an average of 15 kilometers per year. Navigation by compass is especially difficult  during a magnetic storm. Compass bearings can shift by 10 degrees or more within the course of a few hours, therefore, it is important to know the pole's present location.


The student will plot the latitude and the longitude involved in the movement of the Magnetic North Pole over a period of time, predict its location by the year 2000, and justify their reasoning.


Student page and Teacher's Answer Key
Ruler with mm units


  1. Students will plot the latitude and the longitude for the given years using the data table.
  2. Students will connect the points in the given order to see the pattern of movement in the Magnetic North Pole.
  3. Students will measure the distances between the points, and using the time between the years in the table, arrive at an average rate of movement (See explanation).
  4. Students will plot and justify their choice of location based on their results. Student's prediction and justification should be based on the speed and the distance that the Magnetic North Pole has shifted in prior years.


To calculate the speed, use the following formula:

Speed = Tabulated Distance 
                Difference in Years

For the first interval between 1831 and 1904, the Magnetic North Pole  moved 50 kilometers. The difference in the years is 1904 - 1831 = 73 years, so therefore the speed during this interval is:

Speed =  50      = 0.7 km/year


Students will understand that the Magnetic North Pole is not fixed at a specific geographic location, but moves from year to year by a significant amount.

Related Web Resources

The Canadian Search and Rescue site has a great Illustrated Guide to the current and past locations of the North Magnetic Pole.

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This activity was developed by the NASA, IMAGE/POETRY 
Teacher and Student Consortium. 
For more information, and a list of other resources, visit 
the IMAGE/POETRYweb site.