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North Pole Maps - Discover The Arctic Maps Of The North Pole

Travel experience team member standing on the sea ice in front of Le Commandant Charcot
By Andy Marsh
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1909 J. N. Matthews Map of the North Pole showing conflicting claims of Cook and Peary Arctic Map

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As someone passionate about polar exploration, I’ve always been fascinated by the history of mapping the polar regions. One of the most intriguing aspects of this history is the evolution of North Pole maps and the Arctic region over the centuries.

The North Pole, located at the northernmost point of the Earth, has been a subject of great interest for explorers, scientists, and cartographers. The first map of the North Pole was created in 1569, but the region wasn’t officially reached until 1926. Early cartographers faced significant challenges in mapping this remote and largely unexplored area, leading to the evolution of North Pole maps from early speculative representations to detailed satellite imagery in modern times.

In this guide, I’ll explore the history of North Pole maps, starting with the enigmatic first map of the North Pole and progressing to modern satellite imagery and ice navigational charts.

The First Map Of The North Pole by Gerardus Mercator in 1595

The First Map Of The North Pole by Gerardus Mercator in 1595

Gerardus Mercator produced the first map of the North Pole in 1595. Mercator, known for creating the Mercator projection that is still used today, combined known land masses with mythical elements on his first attempt to map the North Pole. He outlined landmasses such as Greenland, Norway, Iceland, and Hudson Bay, albeit inaccurately. One notable mythical element on Mercator’s map was the depiction of a giant magnetic mountain at the North Pole, which, in reality, does not exist.

The 2nd North Pole Map by Mercator released in 1606

In 1606, Mercator produced a second map of the North Pole with some changes, including adding a new landmass in the area of Svalbard while retaining the mythical magnetic North Pole mountain.

Polus Arcticus by Hondius 1636

North Pole Map called Polus Arcticus by Hondius in 1636

In 1636, “Polus Arcticus” by Henricus Hondius, a Dutch cartographer, replaced the previous Mercator maps of the North Pole and the Arctic region. During this period, the Arctic was beginning to be explored. 1619 Dutch whalers established a whaling settlement called Smeerenburg, meaning “Blubbertown,” on the North Shores of Spitsbergen. It is interesting to see how, in just 30 years, mapping of the Arctic region took place with more accurate depictions of Svalbard, Greenland, and the entrance to the Northwest Passage.

North Pole Map By C.G. Zorgdragers in the 1700’s

map of the north pole from 1700

C.G. Zorgdragers created early maps of Spitsbergen and Greenland in the 1700s. One of his maps depicts the North Pole and accurately shows Svalbard’s distance from it. Interestingly, the map portrays the Arctic above Greenland as a continuous ice sheet extending to the North Pole, with the top of the map representing unexplored territory.

During James Cook’s third voyage (1776-1780), meaningful information about the Arctic was gathered, although he did not reach the North Pole. Maps from Cook’s era began to reflect a more realistic understanding of the geography of the Arctic Circle.

North Pole Maps Of The 1800’s

Throughout the 1800s, the Arctic region saw increased mapping efforts due to explorers’ expeditions and the quest for the Northwest Passage. During this period, explorers such as Sir John Franklin, Sir William Edward Parry, and Frederick William Beechey significantly contributed to Arctic cartography.

Paul Vidal de Lablache, Atlas Classique 1894

French-Map-of-The-North-Pole-By-Paul-Vidal-de-Lablache-from-Atlas-Classique-1894

Published in 1894, this Arctic map showed increased details of islands in the high Arctic, including Franz Josef Land and Nova Zemlya in the Russian Arctic, Ellesmere Island, and the Northwest Passage, as well as more detailed mapping of the east coast of Greenland.

The Century Atlas of 1897

1897 map of the north pole showing the detail of the Arctic and Greenland

By 1897, the land masses of the Northwest Passage, Greenland, and the coast of the Russian Arctic had been extensively mapped. Advances in navigation and surveying, along with icebreakers and steam-powered ships, allowed for more accurate and comprehensive mapping of the Arctic.

North Pole Maps Of The 1900’s: The Age Of Exploration

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there was a race to be the first to reach the North Pole. One notable attempt was made by Fridtjof Nansen in 1893. He tried to get to the North Pole by freezing his ship, the Fram, into the Arctic sea ice off the coast of Siberia to drift with the ice across the North Pole. After 18 months of drifting, Nansen attempted to reach the North Pole with sledge dogs across the frozen ocean. While they didn’t get the pole, they did reach 86°13.6′N, which was the furthest North at the time.

Nansen’s Route To The North Pole, Published in 1900

Map showing the Fram expedition to the North Pole

The map, published in 1900, illustrates Nansen’s intended and actual route to the North Pole. It is considered one of the most audacious polar expeditions in history and is among my favourite maps from the early exploration of the North Pole. Nansen’s observations and maps offered valuable insights into Arctic currents and ice conditions.

J. N. Matthews Map of the North Pole showing Peary and Cook’s Claims in 1909

1909 J. N. Matthews Map of the North Pole showing conflicting claims of Cook and Peary Arctic Map

The polar rivals Cook and Peary claimed to have reached the North Pole in 1908 and 1909, respectively. However, their navigation and accounts’ inconsistencies suggest that neither man made it. The controversial map created by J. N. Matthews in 1909 documents the contested routes to the North Pole. It provides insight into Arctic exploration in the early 1900s, marking the large area as the centre of the unexplored region. Despite the ongoing disputes, the expeditions of Cook and Peary significantly contributed to the mapping and understanding of the Arctic region.

Meyers Konversations-Lexikon Volume 7, Germany, 1910

North Pole and Arctic Map of the ocean, islands and land around it. 1910

During the 1920s and 1930s, aerial surveys became increasingly popular, allowing explorers like Richard E. Byrd and Umberto Nobile to use planes and airships to map the Arctic. Aerial photography provided never-before-seen views and more accurate maps of the North Pole and its surrounding areas.

Modern-Day Maps Of The North Pole

In the 1970s, the launch of satellites like Landsat made it possible to monitor and create detailed maps of the Arctic region continuously. Remote sensing technology allowed for the study of ice cover, ocean currents, and topography with unprecedented accuracy.

In the modern era, advances in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) have transformed Arctic mapping by integrating diverse data sources and providing real-time updates. This has led to the creation of highly detailed, interactive maps of the North Pole that are accessible to the public.

Modern-Day Political Map of the North Pole

Modern day political map of the Arctic and the North Pole.

This map provides a detailed representation of the North Pole within the Arctic region and highlights the navigable sea routes through the Northwest and Northeast Passages. It includes current information on the minimal extent of Arctic sea ice, specifically focusing on the northern regions of Greenland and the Canadian Arctic.

A Map Showing The Movement of the North Magnetic Pole

Modern day political map of the Arctic and the North Pole

The magnetic North Pole is not fixed like the Geographic North Pole. It was discovered in 1831 by Sir James Clark Ross and has moved 600 miles from its original location in the Canadian Arctic towards Siberia, even passing the Geographic North Pole. In recent years, its movement has accelerated to 34 miles per year, believed to be caused by molten metal movement beneath the Earth’s surface, according to scientists.

A Map Showing Sea Ice Extent in the Arctic in 2024

Arctic Sea Ice Chart

The Arctic Council and various research institutions’ ongoing expeditions are continually improving our knowledge of the North Pole. There is a strong emphasis on climate change studies, focusing on mapping sea ice extent, temperature changes, and ecological impacts.

Sea ice charts are vital for navigation in polar regions. They are created using thermal infrared satellite images, visual analysis, and data from ships navigating through the ice. These charts are crucial for maritime traffic and safety.

The image above depicts the extent of sea ice using advanced satellite imagery from the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Nasa’s Satellite Image Of The North Pole

Nasa satellite image of the North Pole.

One of the most beautiful images of the North Pole (although not technically a map) is created by NASA. It demonstrates how far technology has come since Mercator’s first map in 1595. The image is composed of 15 satellite images from the Suomi-NPP satellite, taken from a height of 512 miles above the Earth’s surface. It shows the North Pole and the Arctic.

Exploring the North Pole showcases humanity’s enduring curiosity and relentless pursuit of knowledge. It has evolved from mythical lands and speculative geography to precise, data-driven maps, reflecting advances in exploration, technology, and scientific understanding. Today, the North Pole remains a dynamic and critical area of study, with maps playing a crucial role in addressing the challenges and opportunities presented by this unique and rapidly changing region.

Are you interested in visiting the North Pole? Please see our North Pole Cruises and North Pole Holidays to learn more. 

Please refer to our North Pole Travel Guide for all the ways to reach the North Pole.

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About The Author
Travel experience team member standing on the sea ice in front of Le Commandant Charcot
Andy Marsh
Founder of North Pole Cruises
Andy is a passionate explorer and an expert in the polar regions. With over 15 years of experience travelling to some of the most remote polar regions, Andy has sailed across the Drake Passage and explored Antarctica and South Georgia by tall ship. He has years of experience working extensively with small boats in Svalbard and Greenland. He even worked on the Falkland Islands, helping to set up the first TV station there. Andy loves to share his knowledge with guests planning their expeditions as an expert in expedition cruising and a polar know-it-all. His most recent and thrilling voyage was on Le Commandant Charcot to East Greenland, a journey that is sure to captivate your imagination.

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