Sunday, October 10, 2010

Half Way There . . . Twice

Greg Michaels and Ru Rong Zhao visiting the
center of the northeastern quadrasphere, China.
Photo credit: Greg Michaels
This is about being halfway there, not once, but twice.  About being halfway from a pole and the equator and halfway between the Prime Meridian and International Dateline.  Like many geographical curiosities, people have gone out of their way to visit these places, despite the fact that they are often in the middle of nowhere.  What is also surprising, is that only one of these unique places is denoted with any sort of marker, and when it was marked there were several major mistakes made that most people wouldn't even know or think about when they visit.

Where is this place, and what mistakes were made?  Well read on and find out, and as an added surprise there's actually a picture of me, the Lazy Geographer visiting the location.  If that doesn't sell you on the click through I don't know what will.

The geographic coordinate system (i.e. latitude and longitude) divided the globe into four hemispheres: northern and southern, and eastern and western.  The line dividing north and south is the equator, the center most parallel between the two axial poles.  The eastern and western hemispheres, as they are defined today, were divided more arbitrarily.  Currently, by international convention, the standard dividing line for east and west starts at the Prime Meridian at 0° and ends at 180° latitude.

Because they intersect, these four hemispheres further divide the earth into four quadraspheres: northwestern and northeastern, and southwestern and southeastern. In each case, the geographical centers for each of these quadraspheres reside at the intersections of 45° (North and South) and 90° (West and East) lines.

The centers of earth's 4 quadraspheres
Looking at the map above, you can tell why two of our locations aren't marked for tourists to drop by and snap a photo as both confluences in the southern hemisphere (45°S 90°W and 45°S 90°E) are in the middle of oceans.

The center of the northeastern quadrasphere (45°N 90°E) resides in China, in a rather desolate and remote area of Dzungaria, that can only be reached by an unpaved road.  One westerner, Greg Michaels, did reach it with a local guide and the account of his attempt to reach the point and his visit there can be found on the website for the Degree Confluence Project.  He noted on the location:
There was no monument and no evidence of anyone ever having been there. There was one pair of very old tire tracks a few hundred meters away. Animal droppings nearby suggested that some animals at some time may have gnawed at the center-of-the-hemisphere bush.

Why had nobody visited such a prominent geographic location before? Could it be that no one had thought about it? Had they just never bothered to visit the location.
So, with two of our centers in southern oceans, and one in a remote desert of China, we are left with the northwestern quadrasphere.  This is the only quadraspherical center point in the world that currently has a marker. 

The Lazy Geographer
visiting the center of the
northwestern quadrasphere
back in 2008
At 45°N 90°W it is located in a field just outside the small Wisconsin town of Poniatowski.  In the 1970s a local barkeep petitioned the U.S. Geologic Survey to mark the point of this confluence.  They did so, erroneously labeling the sign "Geological Marker" despite the fact that the only reason this place warranted the sign is because of the geographic coordinate system and not because of anything of geologic note or interest could be seen here.  State road signs directing traffic off of the nearby divided highway perpetuate this mistake by also pointing out the "Geological Marker."

A surveying benchmark was also placed in the ground at the site, supposedly accurately marking the exact confluence of the 45°N parallel and 90°W latitude line  (It was encased in ice and snow during my visit.).  The marker is wrong.  The actual confluence is nearly 300 meters (1000 feet) to the east in a privately owned field behind the sign.  Most likely the error was on purpose in order to keep the roadside attraction on the roadside.

During my visit I decided not to trespass in order to "officially" visit the confluence, but I was close enough to call it good.

Have you ever visited this confluence in Wisconsin?  Are there any other geographical curiousities like this you may have visited?  The confluence of multiple state or national borders?  The international date line or prime meridian?  What did you think of visiting them?


  1. Man, I suddenly want to take a trip to Wisconsin.

  2. My father said something about wanting to visit gepgraphical places like this.

  3. i had never even thought about places like that existing, i guess whenever we try to measure something we end up making lots of other arbitrary points too....

  4. Pretty fascinating stuff!

    Back when I was in Middle School (as silly as it may seem now), I always wanted to go to one of the poles and stand right in the smack middle of it while holding up and globe. I would be able to point at it and point at my exact location, just like in all of these cases.

  5. This is really neato!

  6. wow great story, im personally fascinated by geography and the earth

  7. Interesting story, glad I read it.

  8. Awesome story! I hope more is coming!

  9. it's so hard to read your long posts, the colours hurt my eyes.

    you need a lighter text colour imo.

  10. Traveling around like that looks way fun.

  11. @JillDine: Sorry you are having trouble reading the post. It is white text on dark navy blue. I can't get the text much lighter than that. I did bump up the font size a little just in case others are having difficulty reading the page.


Hey everyone, feel free to comment, but be aware that this is meant to be a fun, educational blog. Comments are moderated for crude language and/or other objectionable material and will be deleted as needed.