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Heroes

The incredibly weird reason the North Pole is headed to England.

You know the North Pole?

Image from Christopher Michel/Flickr.


Yeah, that North Pole. It turns out — it's not the North Pole anymore. It, uh ... moved.

The Geographic North Pole is the point around which the rest of the Earth spins. Kind of like this:

GIF from "Elf."

(We also have a Magnetic North Pole, which is what compasses point to. Yes, we have two North Poles. And yes, they're in different spots. I know, I'm sorry).

NASA's been using satellites to watch our poles for a long time, and it turns out the Geographic Pole is not where it used to be.

Technically, yes, the North Pole has always been moving slightly.

The Earth spins around an invisible axis that runs between its North and South Poles, but it's not perfect.

Like a slightly imbalanced top, the Earth wobbles a bit.

Wobble wobble wobble wobble. GIF from "Inception."

According to NASA, historically, the North Pole had been heading slowly but steadily toward North America. Hudson Bay, in particular.

Recently, the North Pole did something really weird though: It kind of ... turned around.

"This is why nobody likes driving with you, Dave."

Before, this is what the trajectory of the North Pole looked like:

Image from NASA/JPL-Caltech.

For a long time, it was slowly but steadily moving down toward Canada.

But around the year 2000, something happened — the axis started booking it away from North America. Fast.

Image from NASA/JPL-Caltech.

It wasn't the Y2K bug — so what changed around the new millennium that shifted the direction of the North Pole?

It all has to do with water weight — specifically, where on Earth we keep our water.

Like a spinning top, if one side of the Earth is heavier than the other, it affects how it spins. But if you stop the top and redistribute the weight, the wobble will change, too.

Image from NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Water is remarkably heavy. And according to NASA, a one-two hit of melting ice sheets coupled with a drought in Asia is redistributing the Earth's water weight. The drought aspect is especially powerful because it's positioned perfectly to really mess with the Earth's rotation.

So where is the North Pole headed next? Looks like Merry Old England.

Image from Milenqqa/Pixabay.

It's moving there at a glacially-slow-to-us-but-kind-of-fast-for-the-planet seven inches per year, says NASA. Though when it gets to England, it'll have to convert that to centimeters, obviously.

There's no need to panic.

This isn't dangerous and won't affect our daily lives. We're not going to be redrawing any maps anytime soon.

GIF from "Potter Puppet Pals."

NASA and other agencies will need to keep track of it in order to keep satellites and GPS accurate, but that's about all the practical changes we'll need to make.

But it does show how little changes can affect things much, much larger. Like, planet-sized things.

As ice sheets melt and weather patterns get more extreme, we're likely to see more of these secondary, larger changes happen to our planet. So buckle up — things might be about to get weird.

This story first appeared on the author's Medium and is reprinted here with permission.

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