Point Nemo, the world’s most lonely place


If there is a question which location is the most difficult for humans to reach on earth, the answer is Point Nemo. Officially known as “the oceanic pole of inaccessibility,” located in the south of Pacific Ocean at 48°52.6′S 123°23.6′W, Point Nemo is not actually a bit of land. It is an invisible spot more than 1,000 miles furthest from land, in any direction. Other poles of inaccessibility include the Eurasian Pole, in China, or the Southern Pole of Inaccessibility in Antarctica – a very difficult place to visit. The closest landmasses to the pole are Ducie Island (part of the Pitcairn Islands) in the north, Motu Nui (part of the Easter Islands) in the northeast, and Maher Island (near the larger Siple Island, off the coast of Marie Byrd Land, Antarctica) to the south. Often referred to as the middle of nowhere, or more simply put, the point in the ocean that is farthest away from land so far removed from civilization that the closest humans to that location at any given time are not even on Earth but likely to be astronauts. The International Space Station orbits the Earth at a maximum of 258 miles (416km), meanwhile the nearest inhabited landmass to Point Nemo is over 1,670 miles (2,700km) away.

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The name Point Nemo originates from Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo who roams the oceans in his submarine in the novel ‘20,000 Leagues Under The Sea’. The Latin translation of ‘Nemo’ means ‘no man’ — a fitting name for a spot so lonely. It took the fastest boat 15 days, 10 hours, and 37 minutes to get there. But not even the man who discovered Point Nemo has ever visited it. It did not technically exist until 1992 — or at least it is still not known where it was. A Croatian-Canadian survey engineer, Hrvoje Lukatela, realized that since the earth was three-dimensional, the most remote ocean point must be equidistant from three different coast lines. He located that point in the ocean – using a geo-spatial computer program that calculated the coordinates – that were the greatest distance from three equidistant land coordinates. At that point in time, it was also surmised that no human being had ever crossed over the coordinates used due to the remote area of the island – there would have been no reason to – it is very possible no human has ever passed through those coordinates at all.

What is known about Point Nemo is that it is also home to extremely strong South Pacific currents called the South Pacific Gyre. This current continuously pushes things through, including any potential nutrients and food sources that would be needed to sustain life on the island or in the water surrounding it. There are volcanic vents in the seafloor which does lend some activity, but it is likely limited to bacteria and crabs which can withstand both the current and the underwater volcanic activity.

But despite the lack of life, it is loud on this place. In 1997, only five years after the place was mapped, an unusual sound was recorded near the pole. It was the loudest ever recorded underwater sound, beating out noises from both animals and underwater geological shifts. The sound was so tremendous, in fact, that it was captured by underwater microphones more than 3,000 miles apart. Puzzled scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were at a loss to think of something large enough to create such a loud sound underwater and dubbed the mystery noise “The Bloop.” Sci-fi enthusiasts, however, quickly thought of one explanation. When writer H.P. Lovecraft first introduced readers to his infamous titular, tentacled monster in 1926’s “The Call of Cthulhu,” he wrote that the creature’s lair was the lost city of R’yleh in the south Pacific Ocean. Lovecraft gave R’yleh the coordinates 47°9′S 126°43’W, which are astonishingly close to those of Point Nemo and to where The Bloop was recorded. The fact that Lovecraft first wrote about his sea monster in 1928 (nearly a full 50 years before Hrvoje Lukatela calculated Nemo’s location) led some people to speculate that the pole of inaccessibility was, in fact, home to a yet-undiscovered creature of some sorts. As it turns out, the bloop was later confirmed to be icebergs breaking up thanks to the comparison of the sound to icequakes previously recorded elsewhere in the world. While scientists still do not have definite answers about what may or may not live in these strange, deep waters, professor and oceanographer Steven D’Hondt of the University of Rhode Island does not believe there is much living out there.

Point Nemo does, however, have at least one other eerie claim to its name. Due to its remoteness and distance from shipping routes, the area around Nemo was chosen as a “spaceship graveyard.” Because autonomous spaceships are not designed to survive re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere (the heat usually destroys them), scientists needed to select an area where there would be an extremely low risk of any humans being struck with flying space-debris. With a population of zero, the oceanic pole of inaccessibility at Point Nemo offered the perfect solution. Space agencies from across the world have been dumping their old or decommissioned satellites around Point Nemo since 1971. In the last four-and-a-half decades, around 260 to 300 satellites have been dumped, with Russia being the largest contributor. Among the debris, are the remains of six Russian Salyut space stations, five European Space Academy’s Transfer Vehicles, four of Japan’s HTV cargo crafts and 145 autonomous Russian supply ships. Mir, the Russian space station, plunged here in 2001 with only six fragments intact. The actual spacecraft cemetery lies four kilometres below the ocean’s surface and is home to defunct and old satellites, spent fuel tanks and waste freighters. At that level, no sunlight penetrates and the only living inhabitants are sponges, viperfish, squid, octopi, and whales.

In 2017-2018 the Volvo Ocean Race boats were collecting samples taken close to Point Nemo as part of the Science Programme, funded by Volvo Cars. The findings show that close to Point Nemo there were between nine and 26 particles of microplastic per cubic metre. As the boats sailed close to Cape Horn, off the tip of South America, measurements increased to 57 particles per cubic metre. Microplastics are often invisible to the naked eye and can take thousands of years to degrade. By collecting information on their levels, the mission is helping scientists gain insight into the scale of plastic pollution and its impact upon marine life. This is the first ever data that the scientific community has been able to analyse from a relatively inaccessible part of the blue planet. Unfortunately, it shows how far and wide microplastics have penetrated the vast oceans and that they are now present in what, until now, many have considered to be untouched, pristine waters.

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