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The Geographical Oddity of Null Island

If you were to do a Google search for Null Island, you’d find it has a website, a Wikipedia entry, a Twitter account, and plenty of maps. That’s pretty impressive -for a place that doesn’t exist. Null Island is a nickname for the spot on the earth where the prime meridian crosses the equator. Its coordinates are 0°N 0°E, meaning it has a longitude of 0 and a latitude of 0. The fictional island was invented by digital cartographers, who map the earth with precise latitude and longitude coordinates. But errors happen.

Unfortunately, due to human typos, messy data, or even glitches in the geocoder itself, the geocoding process doesn’t always run so smoothly. Misspelled street names, non-existent building numbers, and other quirks can create invalid addresses that can confuse a geocoder so that the output becomes “0,0”. While this output indicates that an error occurred, since “0,0” is in fact a location on the Earth’s surface according to the coordinate system, the feature will be mapped there, as nonsensical as the location may be. We end up with an island of misfit data.  

So Null Island ends up as a global version of Joyce Taylor’s Kansas farm, a default location that geographers become rather familiar with. Those who work with geographic information systems know what it means to have your information sent off to Null Island. But just because the island is fictional, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing there. Read about Null Island at Atlas Obscura.

(Image credit: Ian Cairns)


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