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North Pole Is Moving ... But Why?

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First Posted: May 16, 2013 12:13 PM EDT
Journalists gather near the entrance to the Global Seed Vault in Longyearbyen February 25, 2008.

Journalists gather near the entrance to the Global Seed Vault in Longyearbyen February 25, 2008. Credit:Reuters

The North Pole is moving and its forwarding address is somewhere closer to Greenland.

According to a new study, the cause of our North Pole's drift is due to rapidly melting ice sheets throughout the Earth.

As most people know, the Earth is not a perfect sphere but rather instead "egg-shaped." Because of this attribute, the North Pole is a bit off-center and its placement is directly related to the planet's distribution of mass.

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Since the Ice Age, the North Pole has steadily been drifting south "as the enormous ice sheets that once covered large swaths of the planet melted and parts of the Earth rebounded from the lost weight," according to a report by LiveScience on Wednesday, May 15.  

The new strange movement by the North Pole, however, has been observed since 2005 in which its location has been moving eastward, as well. The movement east toward Greenland has been taking place over the span of centimeters each year.

The reason for the odd movement by the North Pole is the rapidly melting Greenland Ice Sheet, which has been documented in a new study published on Monday, May 13 in the Geophysical Research Letters journal.

"[R]ecent accelerated ice loss and associated sea-level rise accounted for more than 90% of the post-2005 polar shift," Nature relayed on Tuesday, May 14 in its analysis of the North Pole study.

Although the change observed was small, according to what University of Texas at Austin co-study author Clark Wilson told LiveScience, if the two factors of the North Pole's regular movement -- Earth's bulging in the middle (known as the 14-month Chandler wobble) and seasonal shifts resulting in an an annual wobble -- are not accounted for, the new shift toward Greenland can be seen as a long-term effect of rapidly melting ice sheets.

The movement of the North Pole is not only perhaps a warning of the dangers of climate change. It is also a critical factor in our daily lives, as the very foundation of our GPS is based on the position of the North Pole, which guides not only your mapping apps, but also those for the planes and systems of the military. 

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