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May 15

History of Expeditions to the North Magnetic Pole


The early nineteenth century was an exciting period in the history of magnetism. Interest in finding a sailing route through the Arctic islands, the so-called Northwest Passage, led to the British Royal Navy sending numerous expeditions to the Canadian Arctic. Because of its importance to navigation, the Royal Navy was also interested in magnetism and thus included magnetic observers on many of its expeditions, the most notable being Edward Sabine and James Clark Ross.

By 1829 sufficient magnetic observations had been made in the Canadian Arctic to restrict the location of the North Magnetic Pole to a hitherto unexplored section of the central Arctic. At this point the British Admiralty suddenly lost interest in Arctic exploration. However, John Ross (the uncle of James) was able to obtain sponsorship from the wealthy distiller Felix Booth for another attempt at the Northwest Passage – one that would go through the uncharted territory in which the North Magnetic Pole was thought to reside. Ross's expedition was remarkable in many ways. His ship, the Victory, was steam powered. This first attempt to use steam power in the Arctic caused the elder Ross to write "there seems indeed no end to the vexation produced by this accursed machinery..." The expedition was forced to spend four winters in the Arctic due to the imprisonment of the Victory in the ice. Eventually, the crew abandoned the Victory and reached the north coast of Baffin Island in lifeboats where they were rescued. In four years only three men were lost, a remarkable feat of survival for the time.

James Ross

James Ross was well aware that the ship's route down the east coast of Boothia Peninsula brought it very close to the Magnetic Pole, and observations made while the ship was entombed in the ice confirmed that the Pole lay no more than a couple of hundred kilometres to the west. In May, 1831, he led a small party overland, and on the last day of the month reached a spot on the west coast of Boothia Peninsula (70° 05.3' N, 96° 46' W) where he believed the North Magnetic Pole should be. After carrying out a lengthy series of observations in an abandoned igloo, Ross computed a magnetic inclination of 89° 59'. Given the accuracy of his instruments, and the variable nature of the magnetic field, he could...Read on...http://gsc.nrcan.gc.ca/geomag/nmp/expeditions_e.php

Posted by Jay Roberts at 09:21 PM | Permalink

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