Where on Earth: Nikumaroro Atoll

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Where on Earth is this island?

Produced by the Space Telescope Science Institute’s Office of Public Outreach in collaboration with the NASA Earth Observatory (https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/).

Story adapted from Image of the Day post by Mike Carlowicz: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/91889/nikumaroro-atoll

  • Image of Nikumaroro Atoll from Operational Land Imager (OLI), on Landsat 8
  • Image of Lagoon Entrance by Angela K. Kepler
  • Illustration of Nikumaroro Atoll
  • Image of Amelia Earhart, 1936 (Hammond & Ewing Collection, Library of Congress)
  • Written by Katherine Porter
  • Designed by Dani Player
  • Music from Yesh Music (ASCAP)

Mountainous, desert, river basin, and snowy terrain seen from above.
An island shaped like a hollow claw with water in the middle.
Text, Where on Earth is this island?
A. Off the coast of Ecuador, B. Between Florida and Cuba, C. In the southern Pacific Ocean, D. In the middle of Lake Michigan
A timer winds down.
Answer C is highlighted. Nikumaroro Island. The water in the middle is labeled a Lagoon. The outer rim of the island is labeled with Sand and Vegetation.
Text, Nikumaroro Atoll, Kiribati, Operational Land Imager, Landsat 8. Located in the Pacific Ocean, halfway between Australia and Hawaii, Nikumaroro Atoll is essentially a sandbar, atop a coral reef, atop a volcano. It is one of the most famous patches of coral outside of the Great Barrier Reef.
In this natural-color image, the deep water of the Pacific Ocean appears as a dark blue expanse surrounding the island.
Thick scrub and strands of coconut palms and other trees hold the sandbar in place around a central lagoon.
A picture of the lagoon.
Text, Lagoon entrance (Angela K. Kepler)
The water in the central lagoon appears turquoise and pale green because it is only a few meters deep.
A picture of a volcanic island.
Text, Originally, Nikumaroro was an active volcanic island.
Over time, a coral reef formed along the shore.
A cross-section of the volcano with coral on the outside slopes.
The volcano shrinks down and the coral grows higher.
Text, As the volcano stopped erupting and began to erode and subside, the elevation of the island decreased. Meanwhile, the coral continued to grow.
The volcano shrinks to under the sea level but the coral remains at sea level.
Text, Eventually, the volcano sank completely underwater, leaving only the ring of coral near the surface, surrounding a shallow lagoon.
Forensic evidence suggests that Nikumaroro may be the final resting place for the pilot Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan.
A black and white picture of Amelia Earhart seated in a cockpit.
Text, Amelia Earhart, 1936 (Hammond & Ewing Collection, Library of Congress). The pair attempted to circumnavigate the globe by airplane, but never made it.
They and their plane disappeared in the Pacific in 1937.
The island recedes as we view the Earth from space.
Text, Music courtesy of Yesh Music (A.S.C.A.P.). WHERE ON EARTH?