12 Days of Christmas: The North Pole and Its Famous Inhabitant.

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The North Pole is the point in the Northern Hemisphere where the Earth’s axis of rotation meets its surface. It is called the True North Pole to distinguish from the Magnetic North Pole.

The North Pole is by definition the northernmost point on the Earth, lying antipodally to the South Pole. It defines a geodetic latitude 90° North, as well as the direction of true north. At the North Pole all directions point south; all lines of longitude converge there, so its longitude can be defined as any degree value. No time zone has been assigned to the North Pole, so any time can be used as the local time. Along tight latitude circles, counterclockwise is east and clockwise is west. 

The North Pole is at the center of the Northern Hemisphere. The nearest land is usually said to be Kaffeklubben Island, off the northern coast of Greenland about 430 miles away. The nearest permanently inhabited place is Alert in the Qikiqtaaluk Region, Nunavut, Canada, which is located 508 mi (817 km) from the Pole.

While the South Pole lies on a continental land mass, the North Pole is located in the middle of the Arctic Ocean amid waters that are almost permanently covered with constantly shifting sea ice. The sea depth at the North Pole has been measured at 13,980 ft (4,261 m) by the Russian Mir submersible in 2007 and at 4,087 meters by USS Nautilus in 1958. This makes it impractical to construct a permanent station at the North Pole (unlike the South Pole). 

However, the Soviet Union/Russia constructed a number of manned drifting stations on an annual basis since 1937, some of which have passed over or very close to the Pole. Since 2002, a group of Russians have also annually established a private base, Barneo, close to the Pole. This operates for a few weeks during early spring. Studies in the 2000s predicted that the North Pole may become seasonally ice-free because of Arctic ice shrinkage, with timescales varying from 2016 to the late 21st century or later.

Attempts to reach the North Pole began in the late 19th century, with the record for “Farthest North” being surpassed on numerous occasions. The first undisputed expedition to reach the North Pole was that of the airship Norge, which overflew the area in 1926 with 16 men on board, including expedition leader Roald Amundsen. Three prior expeditions – led by Frederick Cook (1908, land), Robert Peary (1909, land) and Richard E. Byrd (1926, aerial) – were once also accepted as having reached the Pole. However, in each case later analysis of expedition data has cast doubt upon the accuracy of their claims.

The idea that Santa Claus lives in the North Pole is believed to come from Thomas Nast. His famous depiction of Santa Claus in a December 1866 issue of Harper’s Weekly set the precedent for our modern image of the jolly old elf. Before Nast, Santa had no specific home, though by the 1820s he was already associated with reindeer and, by extension, the frigid climes in which those reindeer live. And though Nast located Santa in the North Pole, the spot itself might as well have been legend: it would be nearly half a century before the first explorers would claim to have reached the geographic North Pole.


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