Null Island

There is a special place on Earth at an equally interesting location. Although it has no spatial extent, it has a thriving community and digital economy: every day many people record their fitness activities, there are countless properties offered to sale and it is even the origin of malicious cyber attacks1. Many restaurants are located there, and delivery drivers are always available to make stops at vacation rentals, there is social media activity with millions of photos uploaded, and the place even has an airline. This place is truly a product of our digital age. It is called Null Island, and it is located at the center of the Earth. Although its reputation is growing as more and more people become aware of its existence, this paper will make a valuable contribution to raising awareness of the most interesting fact about it: that it does not exist in a way most places do. This paper will make an important contribution to the discourse of place in GIScience. Even though Null Island is ‘fictional’, its implications concerning geographic information are very real, and as such, Null Island and its associated issues should be discussed, in a serious and sustained manner, within the GIScience community and beyond.

The name Null Island is used to refer to the location on Earth where the equator intersects the prime meridian at 0° latitude and 0° longitude (0, 0) in the Gulf of Guinea off the coast of West Africa (Figure 1a). Although a weather observation buoy part of the Prediction and Research Moored Array in the Tropical Atlantic (PIRATA) program is permanently anchored to the seabed at that location (Figure 1b), Null Island cannot be considered a physical entity (i.e. an island). As Parker (2020) puts it: ‘outside databases, Null Island does not exist’. It exists only as a placeholder for bad data in databases and digital maps. It is also regularly the topic of social media discussions (e.g. as highlighted in the title of this paper), popular media articles and blogs as well as appearing as an artistic concept. This renders it as a real place without traditional spatial properties. Originally considered as an insider joke within the geospatial community we argue that the concept of Null Island evolved into a wider phenomenon with significant social and technological implications that reach beyond GIScience. People have always found geographic extreme points and superlatives interesting (Wieckowski 2021, Varnajot 2019a), and fictious places can become real. For example, Agloe, NY was originally a ’paper town’ or copyright trap in the 1930s. Following its inclusion in paper maps, the Agloe General Store opened, which was followed by a gas station and two houses, which eventually lead county administrators to consider its existence (Green 2009, Latif et al. 2019). However, Null Island is different in the sense that it is the product of human-computer interaction and it was discovered rather than made up. This paper will also demonstrate that far from existing as an imaginary extreme point Null Island has transformed into a fictional point that has become very real, even though it does not exist. Subsequently, we contribute to raise awareness among the GIScience community with this structured, considered and academic treatment of Null Island as a subject. A discussion of Null Island, as is presented in this paper, is missing from the literature. We also provide guidelines on how to avoid the pitfalls and negative aspects of Null Island when accessing, visualizing, managing and conversing about geogpraphic data and information.


Folksonomies: data geography geospatial data artifacts

/technology and computing/computer crime (0.986127)

Equator (0.951447): dbpedia_resource
Geography (0.912585): dbpedia_resource
Earth (0.890590): dbpedia_resource
Existence (0.821950): dbpedia_resource
Atlantic Ocean (0.747894): dbpedia_resource
Geographic information system (0.727532): dbpedia_resource
Awareness (0.656177): dbpedia_resource
Latitude (0.616817): dbpedia_resource

 'I think I discovered a military base in the middle of the ocean' -- Null Island, the most real of fictional places
Periodicals>Journal Article:  Juhasz, Levente and Mooney, Peter (18 Apr 2022), 'I think I discovered a military base in the middle of the ocean' -- Null Island, the most real of fictional places, Retrieved on 2022-04-19
  • Source Material []
  • Folksonomies: geospatial data artifacts