The Hole in the Pole Gang

Since Edmond Halley of comet fame based a variable magnetic field theory on the idea that there were concentric, hollow spheres inside the earth, and later when that idea was expanded in 1818 by idiosyncratic theorist John Cleve Symmes, Jr., who claimed there was a hole at the North Pole where the earth’s interior, lit by a gentle glowing sun, could be accessed, hollow-earth enthusiasts have been plentiful. However, the location of the North Pole has been crisscrossed by dogsled, ship, dirigible, airplane, and satellite ever since with little evidence of a gaping hole.

Currently you can even charter an icebreaker trip north of Franz Josef Land from Adventure Associates for about $20K and see for yourself. It was here that fictional polar explorer Olaf Jansen reported finding a strange inner-earth world populated by animals and flowers in The Smoky God.

In spite of well-documented research and the advent of satellite imagery, rumors of a hollow earth persist. A look at the North Pole using Google Earth does not show a hole. This fact does not mesh with the mostly pseudo-geology and -geography presented in movie versions of inner-world adventures. This may be because even the possibility of a hidden interior world has fired the imaginations of past and current science fiction writers that include Jules Verne (Journey to the Center of the Earth, 1864), Willis George Emerson (The Smoky God or A Voyage to the Inner World, 1908), and Ian Wedde (Symmes Hole, 1987).

Verne’s popular 144-year-old novel has been turned into a motion picture twice. The 1959 movie version starred James Mason as the geology professor who followed a coded message to the effect that the passage to the center of the earth would be found through a crater in the Snæfellsjökull volcano.

In the latest remake, Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D, the action begins with a stumble into the hole in the pole from the top of the shaky polar volcano. In a slight twist from the 1959 film, the characters use Verne’s novel as a guide book or how-to manual. A goofy professor sets out to lead his nephew and a guide inside the crust of the earth where he believes they will find his lost brother. Prehistoric animals (see the movie in a theatre that provides 3-D glasses to get the full benefit of multiple 3-D effects), big falls, carnivorous plants, and dangerous adventures ensue. Just like in the novel, the characters eventually pop up in Italy.

Modern scientific findings do not support the theory that there is a “Symmes Hole” in the pole even though some aerial photographs of the actual surface of the earth at the North Pole without cloud cover seem to show a 90-mile-wide black hole. These early satellite photographs are not believable for several reasons. The million and a half photographs taken of the North Pole until 1967 were all through heavy cloud cover because most of the time the North Pole is obscured by weather. One disputed image, reportedly taken on January 6, 1967, by the ESSA-3 satellite, is composed of many images “stitched” together. Also, the time that the satellite photograph was supposedly shot would have been at night so the clarity and light depicted in the image are suspect.


The American Geologic Institute (AGI) and the makers of Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D developed an Educator Guide for using the movie to help celebrate Earth Science Week in October 2008. The film was described as “schisty summer fun” by AGI’s GeoTimes in the July 2008 issue:

Aside from the thrilling visual effects, what’s really interesting about this movie is the emphasis on science. Although it might be technically misleading in some parts – with its T-rexes, bioluminescent birds and house-sized mushrooms occupying Earth’s core – the flick is also smattered with many, mostly accurate, geologic references.

While there is no reason to expect that anyone will travel to the inner earth from the North Pole for real, the intersection of science, fiction, and imagination continues to be fruitful ground, or in the case of Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D, a thin crust, through which future Hole in the Pole gangs will likely continue investigating.

This article was written by Carol Minton Morris. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Kimberly Lightle, Principal Investigator, with any questions about the content of this site.

Copyright September 2008 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

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