Null Island is a fictional island located at the confluence of the Equator (zero degrees Latitude) and the Prime Meridian (zero degrees longitude). The concept of designating a one square kilometer area that falls in an open ocean area near the Gulf of Guinea off the coast of Africa was introduced by the creators of Natural Earth, which offers public domain GIS data bundles free for downloading. Null Island was designated for troubleshooting purposes as a way to flag geocoding failures.
A tongue-in-cheek website celebrates Null Island (website no longer active), proclaiming it “like no place on Earth.” Although the site invites curious travelers to come visit the island, if you were inclined to make the trip to this spot 1,600 kilometers off the coast of Africa, all you might find is a weather observation buoy which is part of the Prediction and Research Moored Array (PIRATA) in the Atlantic.
Incidentally, the outline for Null Island was taken from the fantasy game, Myst Island:
Null Island isn’t the only location that geocoding errors are designated. Kenneth Field did a little digging on alternate Null Islands and collected 5,716 locations of “all Null Islands, Null Lakes and even a Null Black Hole that represents the edge of the event horizon where no-one can hear your coordinates scream.” Referring to them collectively as Nill Points, the online map maps out the comparative 0,0 locations pulled from different projection and coordinate systems.
A cautionary tale about creating custom Null Islands made the news when developers for the Los Angele Police Department’s online crime mapping application, designated a default location around the corner from City Hall. This artificially boosted crime rates for that area when 1,380 crimes (4% of the total crimes for that city) with undecipherable addresses were geocoded to the 200 block of West 1st Street. The problematic mapping went undetected until the Los Angeles Times raised a red flag about the mapping.