Deep in the South Pacific Ocean lies a point on the Earth's surface that is farther from land than any other location. Known as Point Nemo, this spot is located approximately 2,688 kilometers (1,450 nautical miles) from the nearest landmass, making it the most remote and isolated place on the planet. If you ever used the phrase 'middle of the ocean', this is literally it.
Table of contents
Point Nemo, the Oceanic Pole of Inaccessibility
Named after the famous fictional submarine captain from Jules Verne's novel "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea," Point Nemo was first identified by Hrvoje Lukatela, a Croatian-Canadian survey engineer, in 1992. Lukatela coded his own geospatial software that allowed him to pinpoint the exact coordinates of the farthest point from dry land by calculating the point that sits at the same distance from the three nearest coastlines. Point Nemo has the largest computed distance of all measured coordinates.
Point Nemo, also known as the "Oceanic Point of Inaccessibility", lies at 48°52.6′ south latitude and 123°23.6′ west longitude, which is about 2,688 kilometers from the nearest land, a 2km-long stretch of land known as Ducie Island, one of the Pitcairn Islands, which is located to the north of Point Nemo. The other two equidistant coastlines are Motu Nui (adjacent to Easter Island) to the northeast and Maher Island (near the larger Siple Island, off the coast of Marie Byrd Land, Antarctica) to the south.
The nearest inhabited landmass is over 3,090 kilometers (1,670 nautical miles) away, on Easter Island. The nearest permanent settlement, however, is only 415 kilometers (258 miles away) though. The catch? That's the distance from Point Nemo to the International Space Station that zooms across the South Pacific multiple times a day.
There is literally no one around within an area of 22 million square kilometers (8,5 million square miles), an area that's around 35 times larger than France.
The name "Nemo" is Latin for "no one," reflecting the fact that this location is so remote that there are no humans within thousands of miles in any direction.
Point Nemo: where spacecraft and satellites go to die
Point Nemo's uniquely remote location makes it an ideal spot for space debris to crash land safely. In fact, the spot is so remote that it has been designated as a "spacecraft cemetery" by the international space community. Satellites and other space debris that fall out of orbit are often directed toward Point Nemo so that they can safely crash into the ocean without harming any populated areas.
This is quite useful since spacecraft destined to be crashed never land at a specific point but rather split into thousands of fragments as they enter the atmosphere, spilling debris in an oval-shaped footprint that can be dozens of miles wide and up to a thousand miles long. There aren't too many places on Earth where you can be sure not even a single piece of debris will hit someone or something.
The way this is done is that NASA, for instance, will time their satellite or spacecraft to execute a controlled entry right above Point Nemo. Some of the spacecraft buried there include several European Space Agency cargo ships, more than 140 Russian Soyuz spacecraft, and the Soviet-era MIR space station.
And one of the upcoming visitors will be the football field-sized International Space Station, which is destined to splash into the Pacific Ocean near Point Nemo sometime in 2031.
Despite its status as the most isolated spot on Earth, Point Nemo has drawn some intrepid travelers who are willing to make the journey to this remote location. However, visiting Point Nemo is not an easy feat, as it requires a long and expensive voyage across some of the roughest seas on Earth. The journey is most often made by scientific expeditions, who are interested in studying the area's unique ocean currents and biodynamics.
Point Nemo is located smack in the middle of the South Pacific Gyre, a large system of circulating ocean currents in the South Pacific Ocean that rotates clockwise around a central point in the ocean. Since it is so far away from land, there are virtually no dust particles or inflows from land, so the waters have an extremely low nutrient concentration.
This makes the vast area around Point Nemo a huge oceanic desert. There are no sharks or large fish. Phytoplankton, minute algae that form the bottom of the marine food chain, are found only at depths greater than a hundred meters.
But despite its remoteness and lack of large marine life, the South Pacific Gyre hosts many bacteria and other microorganisms, which contribute significantly to the global biogeochemical cycles. Small crabs have also been found close to the volcanic vents on the seafloor near Point Nemo.
If there's anything that Point Nemo isn't in short supply of that would be water. But the second most abundant material is likely plastic. Up to 26 microplastic particles per cubic meter were found in seawater samples collected near Point Nemo by passing vessels taking part in the Volvo Ocean Race. Yes, the most remote place on Earth is still littered with pollution, though not as much as the South China Sea, where there are about 350 plastic particles per cubic meter.
Quick facts about Point Nemo
- Point Nemo is the oceanic pole of inaccessibility, but it's not alone. The Northern pole of inaccessibility, also known as the Arctic pole, is found on the Arctic Ocean pack ice at a distance farthest away from any landmass. Its coordinates are 85°48′N and 176°9′W, about 1,008 kilometers (626 miles) from the nearest landmasses of Ellesmere Canada), Henrietta Island (in the East Siberian Sea), and Arctic Cape (in the Russian High Arctic). The Southern pole of inaccessibility is located farthest away from the Southern Ocean, which corresponds to a former Soviet research station in Antarctica found at 82°06′S 54°58′E.
- Point Nemo was discovered only three decades ago. Hrvoje Lukatela, the Croatian-Canadian engineer who made the discovery, never actually visited Point Nemo.
- Point Nemo is widely regarded as the home of Cthulu, the nightmarish fictional entity created by H.P. Lovecraft. Part octopus, part dragon, Cthulu wields enormous mystical power and lives beneath the waves in a sunken city called R'lyeh, which Lovecraft remarkably placed at 47°9′S 126°43′W, very close to Point Nemo. Lovecraft describes this location as "the spot where the Old Ones first came to Earth in their cosmic exploration, and where they still lingered." That's pretty amazing considering the short story The Call of Cthulu was first published in 1928, 66 years before the discovery of Point Nemo.
- The depth of the ocean at Point Nemo is approximately 4,000 meters (13,120 feet).
- The point was named after Jules Verne's character Captain Nemo.
- The first ship to sail to Point Nemo was the Spanish research vessel Hespérides in 1999.
As the point on Earth farthest from any landmass, Point Nemo is a remote and desolate place that is both mysterious and awe-inspiring. While its location in the middle of the South Pacific Gyre has made it a repository for marine debris and pollution, Point Nemo also provides a unique window into the ocean's ecosystems and currents.