Monday, July 30, 2007

Did Top Gear actually go to the North Pole?

Thanks to an anonymous commenter on my previous post, who asked whether Top Gear actually went to the North Pole.

The co-ordinates shown on their SatNav when they were said to be at the North Pole were: N78˚35’7” W104˚11’9”. states that, at this "finishing point", they were 792 miles from the North Pole or 307 miles from the magnetic North Pole:

The North Pole is at N90 latitude, of course, and all the Longitudes at once. What’s the difference? According to the Great Circle Mapper, the difference is 792 miles, or 1275 kilometers. You can see the positions on a map, here.

A-ha, I hear you saying: they must have gone to Magnetic North, then? Yes, I thought of that, but it still doesn’t add up: throughout the program, they always referred to the North Pole: no mention of the word “magnetic” that I can recall, though I could be wrong about that. There’s another problem: they didn’t actually go the North Magnetic Pole.
The latest coordinates I can find for the location of the North Magnetic Pole are those from 2005, which were estimated at 82.7°’N 114°4′W. This is quite a long way from the show’s “North Pole” location: 307 miles, to be exact, according to another Great Circle Map. To be fair, however, the North Magnetic Pole has been near the location they used in the show: in 1994, according to the this map and other historical figures I looked up.

How does that compare to how far they actually went? They started at Resolute, in Nunavut, which is at 74°41′40.27″N 94°50′23.64″W. I know they didn’t go in a straight line, but if they had, another Great Circle Map tells me how far the crow flew: 308 miles.

In other words: their trip to the North Pole took them almost exactly halfway to the North Magnetic Pole.


  1. Yes it does seem as they did not get to the North Pole. It is a pity given the dangers they faced. Good TV but poor exploration.

  2. Geographic north at the top of the globe is in a shifting ice field. It isn't possible to get to by any means most of the year and even then is extremely dangerous. Vehicles certainly couldn't go.

    As you stated magnetic north is constantly changing, the program picked magnetic north for 1996, the same one used by the polar race:
    Strictly speaking, by which I mean nitpicking, they didn’t get to the north pole. But one is impossible for their challenge and the other is constantly moving around. For all intents and purposes they did reach the North Pole. No mean feat!

  3. Richard C - I have suspended your comment. I could not see any link to a Blogger registration on your name. I was not sure about publishing your comment, although it seemed a fair comment.

    If you resubmit your comment with an email address or Blogger registration ID, I will consider reinstating it.

  4. They went to the north magnetic pole.

    From the Wikipedia article:

    "The Canadian government has made several measurements since, which show that the North Magnetic Pole is continually moving northwest. In 1996 an expedition certified its location by magnetometer and theodolite at 78°35.7′N, 104°11.9′W.[3] "

    It's a tenth of a digit off than what shown, but still an amazing feat and wonderful Television. I wish they'd start airing it in America so I wouldn't stumble upon blogs as I'm searching for a link. :)

    Stay Frosty


  5. The BBC is now in the news defending the use of stunt drivers for this feat as it did not alter the truth of the story.

    Which ignores the bigger lie that they never went to 'The' North Pole and were happy to let people think that the boys had driven to 90 degrees north.

    Good TV. Bare-faced lies.

  6. And guess what? David Copperfield never actually made the Statue of Liberty disappear!

    It is clearly ridiculous to think that you could drive a car to the geographic north pole, so why complain that they didn't?

    I thought it was a fabulously entertaining show. Yes they used the magnetic north pole coordinates from a previous polar race; this seems an excellent choice to me. And their GPS clearly showed they were 78 degrees north. They never claimed it was 90.

    Why not just enjoy the show for what it is?

  7. Great, they bulldozed their way through a bunch of Arctic habitats to wrongfully claim that they had reached the pole. Yet another world beater from Clarkson Liars and Selfish Polluters Inc.

  8. I'm disappointed but not surprised they didn't actually get to the North Pole, because its bloody hard to get to. I mean really bloody hard, overland anyway. That's not to denigrate what they did achieve, and it made great TV.

    I'm talking about 90N here. In Franklin's and Amundsen's day magnetic north was south of Resolute so they can't really count that (can they?)

  9. "Great, they bulldozed their way through a bunch of Arctic habitats"

    You know the arctic habitat is just water, right? It's like saying you bulldoze your way through an arctic habitat when you crush up some ice to go into your drink.