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  • Writer's pictureFrank DiGiovanni

So very lonely

Updated: Mar 8, 2023

There's a spot on Earth that is 1,500 miles from land, and could be considered the loneliest place on Earth.

Called "Point Nemo" after the submarine captain from Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, it is almost 1,400 miles from the nearest spec of land. And when you're talking about the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the largest land mass is Antarctica at over 1,700 miles away, but the closest land masses are small specs of islands; Ducie Island, part of the Pitcairn Islands being the closest.

It is often said that should you find yourself at coordinates 48°52.6′S 123°23.6′W, that the closest person/people would be the astronauts that pass overhead in the International Space Station (ISS) at roughly 255 miles above your head! As you let that one sink it, consider what it means to be SO isolated that people in another world are the closest people to you on your very own planet! (To me, space is another world, just like under the sea is, because of what it takes to live in both of them.) Though incredibly isolated, this isolation has become an important component to many-a-nation's space program. And sadly, it's not for the best reasons.

Apollo 7 taking off, October 11, 1968. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Officially known as a "Pole of inaccessibility", Point Nemo has become known as the "spacecraft graveyard". We humans are a messy sort of creature and in few other endeavors can this been seen better, than by the efforts and materials needed to launch humans into space. The Saturn V rockets that took men to the moon stood 363 feet tall (58 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty)! Of that incredible height, over 280 feet of it were simply discarded as the rocket took off, for those interested, that's 425,000 pounds of discarded rocket EVERY TIME the Saturn V took off. There were 13 Saturn V launches (including the one that launched Skylab) that discarded a total of over 5.5 million pounds of unwanted, unneeded spaceship just from those 13 launches! While most of that fell into the Atlantic Ocean, nowadays when a spacecraft, probe or satellite has reached the end of its serviceable life, it must be "thrown away" and Point Nemo is the perfect spot to do just that.

Point Nemo or the Oceanic Pole of Inaccessibility. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Point Nemo shares a unique geographical location in that it is called a "Point of Inaccessibility". A Point of Inaccessibility is a point with respect to a geographical area of inaccessibility which marks a location that is the most challenging to reach. Meaning for you and I, it's really, REALLY, REALLY hard to get to because it is so far from a coast/land or from a port. Depending on who you ask and what criteria you use, there are 40+ poles of inaccessibility scattered across the planet. But why Point Nemo is so helpful when discarding spacecraft is just how far it is from inhabited land. With an almost-zero percent chance of a discarded spacecraft hitting land, it has become a disposal site for over 250-300 spacecraft! And personally, I would LOVE to take a submersible down and see just how much stuff is down there, but that's me and I admit, I am a little weird ;-) "Its most attractive feature for controlled re-entries is that nobody is living there," said Stijn Lemmens, a space debris expert at the European Space Agency in Darmstadt, Germany. "Coincidentally, it is also biologically not very diverse. So it gets used as a dumping ground—'space graveyard' would be a more polite term—mainly for cargo spacecraft," he said.

But Point Nemo is not the only Pole of Inaccessibility on Earth. The Northern Pole of Inaccessibility, sometimes known as the Arctic pole, is located on the Arctic Ocean pack ice at a distance farthest from any land mass. Located at 85°48′N 176°9′W, some 626 miles from the three closest landmasses. The Southern Pole of Inaccessibility is typically associated with the now-defunct Soviet research station in Kemp Land, Antarctica, as defined in 1958 when the station was established. We've already discussed the Oceanic Pole of Inaccessibility of Point Nemo but these Poles also exist on other continents as well.

In Eurasia, the continental Pole of Inaccessibility, is the place on land that is farthest from the ocean, and it lies in northwestern China, near the Kazakhstan border. Although the exact position of the Eurasian Pole of Inaccessibility is in constant flux (depending on who you ask and where you measure from), Africa has its own Pole of Inaccessibility, as well. Located at 5.65°N 26.17°E, 1,127 miles from the coast near the town of Obo in the Central African Republic and close to the country's tripoint with South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Not to be left out, North America actually has two! In North America, the continental pole of inaccessibility is on the Pine Ridge Reservation in southwest South Dakota about 11 km (7 mi) north of the town of Allen, 1,030 miles from the nearest coastline at 43.36°N 101.97°W. The pole was marked in 2021 with a marker that represents the 7 Lakota Values and the four colors of the Lakota Medicine Wheel.

The top portion of the marker of the North American Pole of Inaccessibility. It is made of steel. It has seven animal figures that represent the 7 Lakota values. The four sides have a color blaze each indicating a portion of the Lakota medicine wheel. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

The Canadian pole of inaccessibility is near the Jackfish River, Alberta 59.03°N 112.82°W, a few miles up the Peace River from where the Jackfish River flows through it. This is the point farthest from any ocean and also from the U.S. border.

Do not forget about South America and Australia! In South America, the continental pole of inaccessibility is in Brazil at 14.05°S 56.85°W, near Arenápolis, Mato Grosso, 935 miles from the nearest coastline. With our friends "down under", Australia, where the continental pole of inaccessibility is located either at 23.17°S 132.27°E or at 23°2′S 132°10′E (measurements are somewhat inaccurate), 570 miles from the nearest coastline. A long way to go, regardless of which latitude/longitude coordinates you choose.

As you can see, the distance in which these areas get their "Pole of Inaccessibility" varies greatly but the fact remains: these are some of the most inaccessible points on Earth. To get there requires great effort, some needing more effort (and money) than others. But whether you like to be in the middle of it all, or the middle of nowhere, these areas on Earth remind us that no matter where we go, there we are.

Even if that's the middle of nowhere.

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Heather Rivera
Heather Rivera
Oct 16, 2023

Thank you for sharing remarkable information about Point Nemo. This is a very remote place 1,500 miles from the mainland with very little life in this place. That's why it is called the loneliest place on earth. flappy bird


Semara Hasian
Semara Hasian
Oct 15, 2023

Wow, this is so exciting. I think this place is extraordinary because it has such an interesting geolocation. I love the sea with its extraordinary underwater world, especially the arctic char pictures are very beautiful. Each fish has its own colour, shape, features and it's so cool. everything that surrounds us is all incredible.

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