Sunday, 1 March 2015

Far Far Away

On the 12th April 1961 Yuri Gagarin left earth on the spacecraft Vostok 3KA-3, to become the first ever human in space. Once he left orbit and looked back on the planet we call home, he was gazing upon the fifth largest planet in our solar system. Earth has a rough equator length of 24,902 miles (40,750 km); weights in at 5.9 sextillion tons; is covered by 29% land and 71% water - making the name 'earth' appear somewhat ironic. Yuri ventured further from the lands and seas of earth than any human had in history - an astronomical achievement (no pun intended). However, given the fact that most of us are either incapable or do not have access to space travel, the question arises: how far could we venture from land or sea without ever leaving the planet?

Let's start with land.

The point on earth furthest from any sea or ocean - basically the furthest inland - is officially known as the 'continental pole of inaccessibility'. If you wished to move further from the sea or ocean than this point, you would have to follow in Yuri Gugarin's footsteps and leave for outer space. This point lies within north-west China close to the Kazakhstan border, 200 miles (320 km) north of the city Urumqi in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region of China, in the Dzoosotoyn Elisen Desert; and is approximately 1,644 miles (2,645 km) from the nearest coastline. It's a pretty dire place to live if you enjoy spending your days off at the beach. The city of Urumqi - literally translating as 'beautiful pasture' - is a wet patch in the midst of the desert. Surrounding the city lies dry, barren land that is quick to distinguish life, yet Urumqi itself is fed by a series of rivers and rain clouds that provide much needed water to the city's 3 million residents. However, given the unique location of the city - the most inland city on earth -, it is sad to note that Urumqi is one of the ten most air polluted cities on the planet, which is possibly due to China's current industrialisation process. The city is so air polluted that a thick hazy smog regularly covers the city during winter, which can be so dense and polluting, that it frequently affects the city's air traffic.

In order to make the distance to the coastline more real, more comprehensible. Let's imagine that we wanted to walk from the continental pole of inaccessibility to the shore. Given the average walking speed is 3.1 mph, if you walked for 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, it would take 44 days of walking to reach the coastline. An epic undertaking if all you wanted to do was go fishing.

Now to the ocean.

The oceanic pole of inaccessibility - nicknamed 'Nemo Point', with reference to Jules Verne's Captain Nemo from the novel 20,000 leagues under the sea - unsurprisingly lies within the south Pacific Ocean, the largest ocean on earth. This remote, distant, inhospitable point lies 1,670 miles (2,688 km) from the nearest land of Ducie island. This island is literally a speck in the middle of a very large ocean. Ducie island has a total area of 1.5 sq miles, which includes an interior lagoon, some sparse vegetation and a selection of birds. The lagoon which sits in the middle of the tiny island like a private swimming pool is home to a variety of fish, including the Galapagos shark. This shark grows to 3 meters, hangs around in groups and tends to have a bad attitude. Sort of like a teenager. However, given the pristine waters, the thriving life and the enchanting mysticism that encompasses the island, very few people take the time and effort to visit. This, I imagine, is most probably due to its extreme remoteness, because as we know, it is one of the most remote places on earth.

Once again, to place this humongous distance into context. The oceanic pole of inaccessibility lies roughly 60% of the way between New Zealand and South America. And if you were to swim from Nemo Point to Ducie Island, it would be the equivalent of swimming 53,760 lengths of an Olympic size swimming pool.

The continental pole of inaccessibility lies 1,644 miles from the nearest coastline. 

The Chinese city of Urumqi has such levels of air pollution that a smog frequently covers the city.

The oceanic pole of inaccessibility, AKA. Nemo Point. 

A lonely looking Ducie Island.

- Until the next Butterfly