Where is the Most Remote Location on Earth?

by Ian O'Neill on April 20, 2009

A heat map of travel-times to nearest city

A heat map of travel-times to nearest city

According to a new study, less than 10% of the world’s land is more than 48 hours of travel from the nearest city. This doesn’t include air travel, it is ground-travel only (i.e. on foot, train, car, boat, bike, horse, donkey). So no matter where you are in the world, there’s a good chance you can get to somewhere substantially populated within two days. At face-value, this might not seem very important, but when you look at the maps, you see many wilderness locations aren’t quite as remote as we once thought they were. The Amazon Rainforest for example is surprisingly well connected (rivers are quite useful in that respect), and the remote deserts of Africa have a pretty efficient road network.

So, where is the most remote location on Earth? How long would it take to get there?

I can happily say that for 5 months I lived in one of the most remote places in the world. The Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard in the High Arctic turns out to be a very extreme place even if you put the polar bears and -30°C temperatures to one side. No matter how hard you try, it would take 2-3 days by boat to travel from Longyearbyen (on the main island of Spitsbergen) to the Norwegian mainland city of Tromsø. Unfortunately, the number of places around the globe that can boast this are rapidly shrinking.

The fact is, the travel time of any point from the nearest settlement of over 50,000 people using only ground-travel is decreasing rapidly. Transportation infrastructures are spreading and population density is increasing, meaning more people are making bigger cities closer together.

Travel times as used by the researchers

Travel times as used by the researchers

A new set of maps created by researchers at the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre in Ispra, Italy, and the World Bank illustrates just how “connected” our world has become and it also highlights the dwindling number of “true” wildernesses.

Based on a computer model that calculates the journey time to the nearest city of 50,000+ people taking only land or water. The variables included in this complex model are types of terrain, road, rail and river network access, altitude, terrain steepness and obstacles (such as border crossings). The key conclusions the researchers gained are that less than 10% of the planet’s landmass is more than 48 hours ground-travel away from the nearest city. The Amazon, for example, only has 20% of its landmass more than 2 days away from the nearest Brazilian city (owed primarily to its vast network of rivers).

The most striking maps include the plotting of the busiest waterways (the English Channel, Mediterranean and South China Seas are the most crowded) and the scope of the world’s road network. In fact, it is little wonder the international community is worried about the increasing numbers of Somalian pirate attacks; another very busy shipping lane is sandwiched between Somalia and Yemen (the key route from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean).

The most remot point on the entire planet: 34.7°N 85.7°E - the Tibeten plateau

The most remote point on the entire planet: 34.7°N 85.7°E - the Tibetan plateau

So where is the most remote place on Earth? The Tibetan plateau (pictured left). From 34.7°N 85.7°E, it would take three whole weeks to travel to the cities of Lhasa or Korla. If you were to take this trip, expect to walk for 20 days and drive by car for one day. Partly due to the rough terrain and 5200 metres in altitude, Tibet will probably remain the most extreme place on Earth for some time to come.

It is hoped these maps will serve as a baseline for future studies, showing how nations deal with population growth, how nature is being eroded and possibly providing some insight as to how to manage the planet a little better than we are at present…

View all the maps »

Source: New Scientist


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Hello! My name is Ian O'Neill and I've been writing for the Universe Today since December 2007. I am a solar physics doctor, but my space interests are wide-ranging. Since becoming a science writer I have been drawn to the more extreme astrophysics concepts (like black hole dynamics), high energy physics (getting excited about the LHC!) and general space colonization efforts. I am also heavily involved with the Mars Homestead project (run by the Mars Foundation), an international organization to advance our settlement concepts on Mars. I also run my own space physics blog: Astroengine.com, be sure to check it out!

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