Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Magnetic Pole Wandering
Name: Matt
Status: Student 
Grade: 9-12
Location: TX
Country: United States
Date: April 2006

Why do the magnetic poles change location from time to time and how much? Is there a certain range of their movement and how is that range measured? in degrees? Also, I assume magnetic north points towards the magnetic pole. What is geodetic north based on? Thank you for your time.

The details of the answers to both your questions I do not believe are fully understood. It is proposed that the magnetic north pole wanders as a result of convection of molten iron in the earth's mantle, but what drives that is open to debate. The geodetic pole, the axis of rotation also follows a complex path. It is influenced by gravitational interactions of the Sun, Moon, and other planets, tidal lag, and other "minor" effects. If I remember correctly there are some 10-12 effects that cause the Earth's geodetic north to wander, one of which is the migration of the magnetic north pole! Gets to be very complicated.

Vince Calder

Click here to return to the Environmental and Earth Science Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (, or at Argonne's Educational Programs

Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory