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Surrounded by a Sea of DangerPosted Tuesday, September 2, 2008, at 10:38 PM
The geographic North Pole is the northern point on the earth's axis around which the earth spins. It's located at 90 degrees north latitude. If you were standing on it, every direction on earth would be due south. You would also be freezing your tutu and on the lookout for polar bears that haven't eaten lately.
The magnetic North Pole is the spot on earth where compasses point. Presently, it's located in the Arctic Ocean, nearly a thousand miles south of the geographic North Pole, just southwest of Canada's Ellef Ringnes Island.
The town of Resolute Bay, population 200, one of Canada's most northerly settlements, is only a short plane ride away. Their motto is "Resolute is not the end of the world, but you can see it from here."
Unlike the geographic North Pole, the earth's magnetic pole is constantly on the move, caused by the movement of molten iron deep within the earth.
The precise location of the magnetic North Pole was first determined in 1831, hundreds of miles from its present location. Since then it has been resurveyed about once every decade and has historically been moving north-northwest at more than 10 miles per year. According to the latest satellite surveys, it also has a daily elliptical movement of approximately 50 miles from its average point.
Since 1950, the magnetic North Pole's migrating speed has increased some 400 percent, covering closer to 50 miles every year, requiring the Hydrographic Office of the US Navy to update its maps every five years.
Not only is the magnetic North Pole wandering across the top of the planet, but the two poles have changed polarity many times throughout the eons. The North Pole becomes the South Pole and visa versa -- positive becomes negative as negative becomes positive.
This can be verified because iron oxide in volcanic lava or igneous rocks is nonmagnetic when liquefied by extreme heat. Upon cooling, they obtain a magnetic orientation matching the Earth's polarity at that given time.
Based on core samples from the Earth's surface, as well as submarine mountain ranges, there have been numerous pole reversals, the last one occurring approximately 12,400 years ago. Evidently, our planet goes through a magnetic pole reversal on a regular basis.
Subterranean currents of molten lava create the magnetic poles. Changes in the flow lead to pole reversals.
Gauthier Hulot of the Globe Institute of Paris recently discovered that molten iron off the tip of Africa is now moving in a direction that is gradually weakening the dominant magnetic field, possibly leading to a global pole reversal.
Exactly what happens during a reversal isn't clear.
A pole shift 12,400 years ago would possibly explain such events as the Biblical flood, the disappearance of the "mythical" continent of Atlantis, and such unexplainable phenomena as marine fossils found atop the Himalayan Mountains and evidence of tropical plant life discovered beneath the ice in Antarctica. In all likelihood, something dramatic happened in an instant global catastrophe rather than gradually over time.
In addition, the Earth's crust is made up of gigantic tectonic plates. They rest on a liquid surface and are prone to movement, causing stress that generates volcanoes and earthquakes. A sudden, global slippage of the Earth's crust is also a possibility.
Albert Einstein once wrote, "In a polar region there is a continual deposition of ice, which is not symmetrically distributed about the pole. The Earth's rotation acts on these deposited masses [of ice], and produces centrifugal momentum that is transmitted to the rigid crust of the earth. The constantly increasing centrifugal momentum produced in this way will, when it has reached a certain point, produce a movement of the Earth's crust over the rest of the Earth's body, and this will displace the polar regions toward the equator."
Earth is a very precarious place. The magnetic poles are prone to reversals in polarity and its surface crust can potentially slip in position. To mankind this rare occurrence would be a disaster of Biblical proportions. But to the planet itself, it's just another bump in the road.
All in all, it makes things like politics and war seem trivial.
As a human being, I am merely a small glob of organic matter on a large spinning orb, hurtling through a vast void, destination unknown. Yet I reside at the center of the universe, basking in the spirit of my human essence, awed by the glory of my destiny unfolding before me.
I am an island named Bret, surrounded by a sea of danger, comfortable in the knowledge that we reap what we sow.
Quote for the Day -- "The universe that we inhabit and our shared perception of it are the results of a common karma. Likewise, the places that we will experience in future rebirths will be the outcome of the karma that we share with the other beings living there. The actions of each of us, human or nonhuman, have contributed to the world in which we live. We all have a common responsibility for our world and are connected with everything in it." The 14th Dalai Lama
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Bret Burquest is a former award-winning columnist for The News (2001-2007) and author of four novels. He has lived in Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Miami, Atlanta, Kansas City, Memphis and the middle of the Arizona desert. After a life of blood, sweat and tears in big cities, he has finally found peace in northern Arkansas where he grows tomatoes, watches sunsets and occasionally shares the Secrets of the Universe (and beyond) with the rest of the world.