The Equator

Thursday, 5th November 2009 by

We featured the Greenwich meridian two years ago on Google Sightseeing, so it’s about time we had a closer look at the other global zero: the equator.

Although it is more than 40,000km long, there are surprisingly few towns along the line – much of its length consists of ocean, and on land it crosses large expanses of tropical rainforest.

Equator

We start our journey, appropriately enough, in the country named after its location: Ecuador. Perhaps the best known monument marking the equator is Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World), just outside the capital, Quito. These days, GPS-laden tourists are often alarmed to find that the true zero line appears to be 240 metres north of the line on the ground.

Mitad del Mundo

It’s all a question of which map datum1 you use: The Global Positioning System, along with most online maps, uses the WGS84 datum. So, in the same way that the Greenwich meridian is 100 metres or so away from GPS 0° longitude, the GPS equator (shown in red below) is somewhat north of the Mitad del Mundo line (in blue).

Just to the northeast of the offical Mitad del Mundo monument is a small private museum called Inti-Ñan, which claims to be on the “real” equator. It is, but only on an older datum called SAD69 (shown in yellow). Your GPS won’t read zero until you walk into the main road outside.

Three equators

Heading eastwards through Ecuador, we soon come to the highest point on the equator, and the only place on the line with permanent snow cover: Volcán Cayambe. The summit, just inside the northern hemisphere, is 5,790 metres above sea level; the highest point on the equator itself is some 1,100 metres lower.

Volcán Cayambe

On the other side of South America, in the city of Macapá in Brazil, we find a football2 stadium supposedly built right on the equator, with one half of the pitch in each hemisphere. This is the Estádio Milton Corrêa, better known as the Zerão (“Big Zero”), and it’s only slightly marred by the fact that the WGS84 equator actually runs just past the southern end of the pitch. A little way to the east, along Avenida Equatorial, is a monument known as Marco Zero.

Zerão stadium Marco Zero

Next we cross the Atlantic to Africa. A popular tourist stop in Kenya is this layby on the outskirts of Nanyuki, where a sign (arrowed) marks the location of the equator. In this case it’s pretty accurate, being just 20 metres or so south of the WGS84 line. You can usually find enterprising locals here willing, for a few shillings, to “demonstrate” how water flows down the plughole in opposite directions either side of the line. However, it’s an urban myth and the demonstration is all down to sleight of hand.

Nanyuki kenyasign

Our last location is in Indonesia, in Pontianak on the island of Borneo. Built in 1990, the Equator Monument is a replica of the marker first erected in the 1920s by Dutch surveyors. It’s five times the size of the original, but again it’s disappointing to note that it is 120 metres too far north, according to GPS.

pontianak

One final Google oddity – if you search for the location “0,0″, then as you’d expect you get a placemark at the intersection of the equator and the Greenwich meridian, off the coast of west Africa. What’s more unexpected is the address that is given: 23208 Glenbrook St, St Clair Shores, Michigan. Is this unassuming neighbourhood the real centre of the universe?

0,0 address glenbrook


  1. A datum is a simplified mathematical model of the Earth used as a basis for creating maps. 

  2. Or soccer, for readers in North America, Australia and other silly places :)