music, opinion and technology

top gear heads south

with 7 comments

The BBC TV show Top Gear has recently come in for some major criticism over a new “special”: a trip to the North Pole. The criticism has revolved around the environmental impact of driving three cars to the North Pole, especially if they leave their customary trail of parts behind them. If you haven’t seen the show, and don’t want to know what happened before you do, stop reading now: there are spoilers coming.

I’m prepared to overlook the environmental concerns, for the simple reason that the show is unlikely to inspire many more such jaunts: it was expensive, complex, and hardly easy on anyone involved, even those in the three cars. I came away with a general impression of “we did this, so you don’t have to, and we even got it on HD Video”.

After many scrapes, including one that required several parts and left a pool of diesel on the ice, the car with Clarkson and May got to the North Pole first, before Hammond’s dog sled (which he wasn’t driving). The truck needed a backup team of Icelanders to help them, who pulled off tricks such as re-inflating a tyre with a bottle of butane and a lighter. That’s alright, then isn’t it? It’s just TV, right? Not so fast.

I’m hardly a Geographic geek, but the shot of the truck arriving at the North Pole raised more questions. They showed the truck’s GPS screen hitting the mark: N78˚35’7” W104˚11’9”. 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. Come on, Jeremy: care to talk your way out of this one? If you were following the 2007 Polar Race route, you didn’t say anything about that…  🙄


Written by brian t

July 25, 2007 at 11:12 pm

7 Responses

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  1. They were going to the magnetic pole – said very clearly.

    > I didn’t keep a recording, so you might be right. Or, if you saw the Sunday re-run, they had time to add that in. The fact remains, however, that they did not go to any Pole – geographic or magnetic.

    Chris Vernon

    July 29, 2007 at 11:59 pm

  2. I watched this on Sunday and cannot remember the magnetic pole being mentioned. The main reason I came to this site to find what pole he was on about. No doubt it was the Clarkson Pole.

    No doubt Hammy lost as he was at 89 degrees north!

    David Nower

    July 31, 2007 at 7:38 am

  3. They went to the site of the magnetic pole in 1996, its the same route as a yearly race that usually doesn’t say its a race to the pole but its still sorta correct.

    Here is the route of the race:

    > Yes – I already put a link to that site in the post.


    August 10, 2007 at 7:07 pm

  4. I was just watching the show and thought that as well. I had a quick look at Google Earth and found the position of thier GPS location and found it to be and least 100 miles from magnetic North or the North pole.
    They mentioned they would be traveling 400 miles which is far to short of the mark even if they started from Bathurst Island.


    August 30, 2007 at 12:56 pm

  5. Here’s some details of how in 1996 the position of magnetic north was certified

    Jerry Geaney

    January 3, 2008 at 10:05 pm

  6. But … it was hillarious!!

    Who cares if they went magnetic, geographic, 96 polar challenge.

    Watch, laugh, enjoy!! It’s entertainment. DOT


    May 30, 2008 at 9:57 am

  7. maby they got caption slow to program the GPS. we all know how he tends to get lost from time to time.


    April 23, 2009 at 8:51 pm

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