North Magnetic Pole Discovered

On this day in 1831, British naval officer and explorer Sir James Clark Ross discovered the North Magnetic Pole.

The nephew of Rear Admiral John Ross, Ross was born in London into a family of naval experts and explorers. He entered the navy in 1812 and in 1818 accompanied his uncle on his first Arctic voyage in search of the Northwest Passage. Ross also accompanied rear admiral and explorer William Edward Parry on his four Arctic expeditions, including an unsuccessful attempt to reach the North Pole by sledge.

Between 1829 and 1833 Ross again served on his uncle John Ross’s second Arctic expedition, this time as a commander. During the expedition the younger Ross led his party across the Boothia Isthmus in the far north of Canada, reaching the North Magnetic Pole on 1 June 1831. They were the first known explorers to discover the location of the Pole. On this trip Ross also charted the Beaufort Islands, later renamed the Clarence Islands by his uncle.

Upon his return home Ross was promoted to captain. He returned to Baffin Bay in 1836 to undertake the relief of whalers, and from 1835 to 1838 completed a magnetic survey of Great Britain. That same year, in September 1838, Ross sailed the HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror to the Antarctic, where he discovered the South Magnetic Pole. Ross and his party also explored Antarctica and conducted scientific tests and experiments according to directions from the Royal Society. They also discovered the Ross Sea and penetrated the ice belt as far south as latitude 78° 9′ 30”.

Ross’s achievements were celebrated back home in Britain. He received gold medals from geographical societies in London and Paris, was knighted in 1844, and was elected fellow of the Royal Society in 1848. In 1847 he penned his account of his expedition in A Voyage of Discovery and Research to Southern and Antarctic Regions.

A number of geographic features, including the James Ross Strait, Ross Ice Shelf, and even the Ross Crater on Mars, are named after this formidable explorer.