"We are a collective geezer." Uffish, to Katya
Question #91271 posted on 09/30/2018 7:17 a.m.
Q:

Dear 100 Hour Board,

For Alumni week, and if it doesn't take too much effort, could you update the answers to Question #70656 with the recently announced temples? Especially yayfulness's video, if he's around.

-Thinks its still SO Cool!

A:

Dear thinker,

Greetings from significantly beyond the end of alumni week! In my defense, I finally bought Crusader Kings 2 as a graduation gift to myself and it's taken over my life I've had a very busy last few months. But this wouldn't be a yayfulness temples answer if it didn't go horrifically over hours, would it? Either way, it's done now, so I hope it's worth the wait.

First off, for anyone who's new to this series, in 2013 I answered Optimistic's Board Question #70656 with a video showing that the Maldives, a tiny archipelago south of India, were the furthest permanently inhabited location from an existing or announced LDS temple. In 2015, right before I retired from the Board, I updated the answer in Board Question #83118, which is honestly easier to read if you don't want to deal with a video. By then, thanks to the announcement of the Bangkok Temple, the new furthest point from a temple was the island of Socotra, just off the coast of Yemen. Earlier that same year, I also answered Board Question #82234, which took a look at the United States (not counting Hawaii and Alaska, because... Hawaii and Alaska), and Board Question #82284, which corrected an error in my answer to the previous question.

Since 2015, the Church has announced sixteen more temples. The most notable ones for the purposes of this mapping exercise are in Harare, Zimbabwe; Nairobi, Kenya; Bengaluru (Bangalore), India; and an as-yet undetermined location in Russia. Because it's kind of hard to make a map of a location that hasn't been chosen yet, I've left the Russian temple off of my list, but we'll revisit it later.

So with that, here's the map:

distances to 2500.png

You can click here to download a larger zoomable version. I highly recommend it; there are a lot of details that are easy to miss on the small version. The key is as follows:

  • Cyan lines - 200 mile radius
  • Green lines - 500 mile radius
  • Yellow lines - 1,000 mile radius
  • Orange lines - 1,500 mile radius
  • Red lines - 2,000 mile radius
  • Purple lines - 2,500 mile radius
I omitted all distances above 2,500 miles, since no land outside Antarctica was covered and the polar distortion was too high to intuitively interpret.

As you can see, Socotra and the Maldives are now within 1,500 miles of the Nairobi and Bangaluru temples, respectively.

In total, there are six areas with permanent human habitations that are over 2,000 miles from the nearest temple, and no areas at a distance of over 2,500 miles. Before we get to the winner, let's see the runners-up. In order to make my life easier, I added an intermediate black line at 2,250 miles which only shows up on some of the zoomed-in images.

The smallest area on the map - incredibly easy to miss on the smaller map, where it's just a tiny red dot - is in the northern Arabian Desert. Here's a close-up picture:

red triangle.png

Remarkably, the red triangle falls directly on Al-Hofuf, the fifth largest city in Saudi Arabia. The city is almost exactly 2,000 miles from Bengaluru, Nairobi, and Kiev, and it's evidently one of the biggest sites of date cultivation in the world.

The second area is in northwestern Greenland. I didn't catch it the first time around, and now that I've graduated I can't go back and see exactly where the 2,000-mile line falls along the coast (there are no inland cities). However, if I didn't miss anything while investigating using the Google Maps distance measurement tool, there are three permanent settlements beyond that line: Kullorsuaq (population 448, 2,052 miles from Winnipeg), Nuussuaq (formerly Kraulshavn, population 202, 2,037 miles from Winnipeg), and Qeqertat (population 33, 2,014 miles from Edmonton).

The third area is in the Indian Ocean. At the southern end of that area, beyond 2,500 miles from the nearest temple, you can find the Australian territory of Heard Island and MacDonald Islands - but you probably won't find any people there. In the mid-1800s, a community formed around the seal oil industry and had a peak population of around 200, but the industry collapsed before the end of the century after hunting the local seal population nearly to extinction. Today there are occasional expeditions by scientists and amateur radio operators, but there doesn't appear to have been a permanent population in over a century. The nearby Kerguelen Islands, which I mentioned in Board Question #91382, are home to a French naval base but no civilian population.

Further north, midway between the 2,000 and 2,250 mile lines, is the island of Rodrigues.

rodrigues.png

The island is a territory of Mauritius and has a population of a little over 40,000.

The fourth area is in the central Pacific and contains several islands. One of those islands, just short of the 2,250 mile line, is Bikini Atoll.

bikini atoll.png

The atoll, near the center of the image and to the west of the largest island, had a population of 167 in 1946 before being relocated by the United States to allow the island to be used for nuclear testing. Today, Wikipedia reports that the island is home to six caretakers, and the larger island to the east, Rongelap Atoll, has either 19 or 20 residents.

Further west is the island of Pohnpei.

Pohnpei.png

Pohnpei is the large island in the center, home to the capital of the Federated States of Micronesia. It has a population of about 34,000.

The fifth area is in the eastern Pacific, and has just one island: Easter Island.

easter island.png

Easter Island is an outer territory of Chile, with a population of about 7,750.

And the winner? The winner is our old friend Россия. There's enough Россия, in fact, that cataloging all of it would be nearly impossible, so I'm going to stick to the two segments that are beyond the 2,250-mile mark.

Segment number one is on the northern Siberian coast, way out in Significant Map Distortion Land. (If you want to see what the geography looks like without distortion, here it is on Google Maps.)

northern triangle.png

The red circle is the ghost city of Nordvik (Нордвик), which was founded in the 1930s in the hopes of finding oil. The oil prospecting never worked out, and instead a penal colony operated a salt mine. The settlement was abandoned in 1956.

The yellow circle at the juncture of the Anabar River and a minor tributary is the city of Yuryung-Khaya (Юрюнг-Хая), also founded in the 1930s, which has a current population of just over 1,100. As far as I can tell, it's the only populated city further than 2,250 miles from a temple in this part of Russia, although the settlements of Syndassko (Сындасско, population "less than 497") and Ust-Olenyok (Усть-Оленёк, population 27) are nearby.

If we go further south, though, there's a lot more to look at.

southern triangle.png

So remember when I said that this was Russia? It turns out that's using an... ah... expansive definition of "Russia" which includes a decent chunk of Kazakhstan and China. (The 2,000-mile line clips the corner of Mongolia too.) Here's that same place on Google:

kinda sorta russia.png

As you can see, there are quite a few cities in this area. We're going to need another buffer.

smaller triangle.png

The outer black line on this image is the 2,250 mile buffer from before, and the inner line is a 2,325 mile buffer. (A 2,300 mile buffer includes a bit too much and a 2,350 mile buffer closes the triangle entirely.) Inside that triangle is a mountain peak named Khrebet Tarbagatay, whose Wikipedia page somewhat inexplicably only exists in Swedish and Cebuano. There is also a ton of farmland but, at least according to Google Maps, only one city more than one city but I'll get to the rest of them later: Makanchi (Мақаншы), which is almost perfectly cut in half by the western side of the triangle.

triangle detail with circle.png

Finding any information on Makanchi was difficult. You can get a decent look at it from above on Google, but street view has only minimal coverage in Kazakhstan - you can see the border crossing at Qoqek (Tacheng) about 45 miles to the east and a random residential scene at Naualy a similar distance to the west, but hardly anything else even remotely close. Wikipedia has a sparse English-language page on Urzhar District, but the only pages for Makanchi itself are in Kazakh and Russian. From what I could gather from Google's attempts at translation, the city was founded in 1879 and has a population of around 12,242.

Now, about those other cities? Somehow I missed them my first time through this project, but a few do in fact exist, mostly along the road from Makanchi to Qoqek. The only two I could find on Wikipedia (links in Russian, which appears to have the most information) are Karatal (Каратал), a town of just under 1,000 residents (not to be confused with any of the fifteen other Kazakh and five Russian cities of the same name, one of which is located 150 miles to the northeast), and Bakhty (Бахты), a city immediately to the Kazakh side of the Kazakh-Chinese border with a population of about 2,500. Google shows a few other settlements along that road, but none of their names are given in the Cyrillic alphabet and as best I can tell none of them show up anywhere on Wikipedia.

While the northern tip of the triangle does approach several settlements, as best I can tell it doesn't actually include them. The closest is a village called Lager (Лагерь), but it turns out Лагерь is actually just the generic Russian and Kazakh word for "camp," so finding any details on the site turned out to be impossible. (For all I know, it may be an actual camp; it can't have more than a dozen or two structures.) Is Lager really outside the triangle? My measurements on Google suggest it is. My best guess from looking at the GIS screenshots says it isn't. I have easy access to Google and no easy access to GIS as I write this section of the answer, so Google is the official winner.

As best I can tell, then, Karatal is the furthest city from a current or announced LDS temple site (if you define "city" as "permanent civilian settlement with a Wikipedia page in at least one language").

BUT.

Remember how I said I couldn't map the announced temple in Russia, because it doesn't have a location yet?

Giving it a location could change this answer quite a bit.

Wikipedia says there are currently three stakes and four districts in Russia. It seems likely that the Church would try to build a temple in one of those stakes, since they represent the largest concentration of Church membership. Therefore, I will start by looking at those three locations: MoscowSaratov, and St. Petersburg.

Moscow seems to be the most logical choice. According to the LDS Meetinghouse Locator, there are ten wards and branches in Moscow and its suburbs, and five others nearby. Plus, as the capital city, it seems likely to be the most suitable travel destination.

Moscow to Bakhty:

moscow to bakhty.png

Moscow to Yuryung-Khaya:

moscow to yuryung khaya.png

If a temple is built in Moscow, it will be just under 2,000 miles from Makanchi, and the entire Urzhar District triangle will fall within the 2,250 mile radius. Nordvik and Yuryung-Khaya would still fall outside of that radius, though, leaving Yuryung-Khaya as the furthest city from a temple.

Next up is Saratov. It only has six wards and branches, but the nearby cities of Samara (home to a district and a mission) and Tolyatti (also home to a district) and other nearby cities contribute seven more. Plus, it's closer to the far-flung branches in Russia's interior.

Saratov to Bakhty:

saratov to bakhty.png

Saratov to Yuryung-Khaya:

saratov to yuryung khaya.png

A temple in Saratov would be even closer to the Urzhar District than Moscow and even further from Yuryung-Khaya, so the result would be the same as Moscow: Yuryung-Khaya is our new winner. If the temple is built 200 miles to the northeast in either Samara or Tolyatti, it will be 2,230 miles from Yuryung-Khaya, still far enough to keep it in first place.

Last, and in my opinion definitely least likely, is St. Petersburg. With seven congregations and three more nearby, the number of members in the temple's immediate vicinity would be lower than either of the other two locations. Plus, St. Petersburg is just under 200 miles from the temple in Helsinki, Finland. Apart from saving the trouble of crossing an international border, a temple in St. Petersburg wouldn't do much to bring temple access closer to most of Russia's members. Still, it's a significantly more likely location than any other city that hasn't made the list.

St. Petersburg to Bakhty:

st petersburg to bakhty.png

St. Petersburg to Yuryung-Khaya:

st petersburg to yuryung khaya.png

If a temple is built in St. Petersburg, it will be about 2,235 miles from Yuryung-Khaya, 2,245 miles from Makanchi, and 2,250 miles from Karatal. This leaves Bakhty and Karatal tied as the furthest cities from a temple.

Let's imagine, though, that none of those cities work out and instead a temple is built somewhere like Yekaterinburg or Novosibirsk, less than 2,000 miles from both regions. If the furthest point from a temple is not in Russia, where will it be?

Remember the six inhabited areas further than 2,000 miles from a temple? We can eliminate Russia immediately, courtesy of the new temple's hypothetical location. We can also knock out Al-Hofuf and Greenland, since all of their cities are between 2,000 and 2,100 miles from a temple. Rodrigues is barely over 2,100 miles, so the Indian Ocean is out too. That leaves two contenders, both in the Pacific Ocean - one to the east, and one to the west.

Easter Island is the only candidate location in the eastern Pacific. By my rough measurement, it's around 2,215 miles from the nearest temple in Concepcion, Chile. In the western Pacific, I'm eliminating both Bikini Atoll and Rongelap Atoll, since the aftermath of nuclear testing left them with only a negligible population. That makes Pohnpei, Micronesia the only island under consideration. Depending on what part of the island you measure, it's between 2,200 and 2,220 miles from the nearest temple in Suva, Fiji. So ultimately, it all comes down to the exact location of the Conception and Suva temples and the exact location of the furthest inhabited point on each island.

If you think I'm going to stop here, you are completely wrong.

The exact site of the temple in Concepcion is Pedro de Valdivia 1525 (addresses in Spanish put the street number after the street name). Here is a close-up of the site:

100hb easter island temple distance 1.png

And here is the most distant identifiable man-made structure on Easter Island that someone could conceivably live in:

100hb easter island temple distance 3.png

The total distance? 2,219.85 miles.

100hb easter island temple distance 2.png

The best address I can find for the temple in Suva is the intersection of Lakeba Street and Princess Road. Here it is:

100hb pohnpei temple distance 1.png

It was a bit harder to find the most distant building on Pohnpei, but I'm pretty sure this is it:

100hb pohnpei temple distance 3.png

Total distance: 2,217.20 miles.

100hb pohnpei temple distance 2.png

Easter Island beats Pohnpei by exactly 2.65 miles.

So there you have it. If the temple in Russia is built east of Moscow, the furthest permanent civilian population from a temple will be on Easter Island. I think that's unlikely, though; once the Russia temple location is announced, I'm willing to bet Easter Island will be in second place, after Yuryung-Khaya, and I'm willing to bet that both of those locations will hold their position for a very long time. Why? Let's take a look at what it would take to change that.

We'll start with Yuryung-Khaya As I previously mentioned, a temple in St. Petersburg or the Samara-Tolyatti area would shave 15-20 miles off the distance from Yuryung-Khaya to the nearest temple, which would still leave it ahead of Easter Island (and in the case of St. Petersburg, if no other temple is built elsewhere in Russia, behind the Urzhar District). But both of these options are, in my opinion, unlikely at best. Could the Church build a second temple elsewhere in Russia? Assuming the first temple is in Moscow or St. Petersburg, I suppose it's possible. Yekaterinburg and Novosibirsk are each surrounded by a cluster of branches, but it seems unlikely that either location would be able to support a temple without significant growth first. And Vladivostok is too isolated from the rest of Russia and too close to Japan and South Korea to seem realistic, especially with a bare handful of branches there. And on top of all of that, Russian politics are not exactly favorable to foreign churches at the moment. Given that we still don't know where the already-announced temple in Russia will be located, I don't think a second one is coming in the foreseeable future.

There are several technically possible but completely implausible options: a second temple north of Sapporo on the island of Hokkaido (which would make no sense, as Sapporo is home to half the island's population and Japan still has no temple in most of its major cities), a temple in Fairbanks, Alaska (which would basically exist for the benefit of the Fairbanks Stake and nobody else - and which would still be 2,235 miles from Yuryung-Khaya), or a temple somewhere in the far reaches of Canada (and far from any existing congregations) or northern Norway, Sweden, or Finland (where there are only a handful of branches).

There are also three currently temple-less countries that we can safely disregard for the foreseeable future: China (not happening anytime soon, and Beijing and all but a few of China's largest cities are outside of the 2,250 mile radius anyway), Kazakhstan (unlikely - while the country isn't as religiously repressive as China, the current LDS population is just 197 people), and the northern tip of North Korea (no).

BUT! That does leave one important possibility: Mongolia. Right now, Mongolia has a mission, two stakes and a district, and over 10,000 members. That's only half as many members as Russia, but they're concentrated in a much smaller area. Ulaanbaatar alone has twelve wards, two more than Moscow. And right now, the nearest temple is over 1,200 miles away in Seoul, South Korea. I imagine it will be a while, but I'm willing to bet most of us will live to see a temple in Ulaanbaatar.

So, in summary and in order, the plausible locations for a temple within 2,250 miles of Yuryung-Khaya:

  1. Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia (1,730 miles; Yuryung-Khaya drops off the list entirely)
  2. St. Petersburg, Russia (2,235 miles; if no temple is built elsewhere in Russia, the Urzhar District stays in first place and Yuryung-Khaya stays in second)
  3. Samara or Tolyatti, Russia (2,230 miles; Yuryung-Khaya stays in first place)
  4. Yekaterinburg, Russia (1,800 miles; Yuryung-Khaya drops off the list)
  5. Novosibirsk, Russia (1,500 miles; there are entire countries in Asia further than Yuryung-Khaya from a temple)
  6. Anywhere else, which would require shocking and unforeseeable circumstances

As for Easter Island? In order to get a temple closer to Easter Island than Concepcion, you'd basically have to build a temple on Easter Island itself. The nearest inhabited place is nearly 1,300 miles away on Pitcairn Island; the nearest city of over 500 people is about 1,600 miles away on Mangareva in French Polynesia. Aside from the Easter Island branch, the nearest listed congregations on the Meetinghouse Locator are the Isla Juan Fernandez, Chile branch 1,900 miles to the east and the Hao, French Polynesia branch 2,000 miles to the west. The only areas in mainland South America closer to Easter Island than Concepcion are just a few miles to the city's south. All four of those places are incredibly unlikely temple candidates. Easter Island's branch is tiny, and when I was a missionary in Chile (2009-2011) the branch president was a senior missionary. Juan Fernandez Island has a population of barely 900 and the branch there is also very small small (although, to the best of my recollection, the branch at least had a local branch president). Hao is an atoll threatened by climate change - its highest point is just three feet above sea level - and it is only 600 miles from the temple in Pape'ete, Tahiti. And there's no good reason to build a second temple in a rural area just a few miles from Concepcion.

So is there ever going to be a temple closer to Easter Island? Probably not in my lifetime.

While we're at it, we might as well look at the outlook for the other locations beyond the 2,000 mile mark.

Micronesia and the Marshall Islands about 700 miles to the east each have a Church membership of 6,000-7,000, but I suspect a more likely location for a new temple in the Pacific is Tarawa, some 1,000 miles to the southeast. The island has 15 congregations, and Kiribati, the country it is a part of, has two stakes, two districts, 31 congregations, and around 20,000 members, making up nearly 20% of its population. It is also around 1,400 miles from the temples in Fiji and Samoa. Now, I'm not sure how the Church would feel about building a temple on an atoll as opposed to a proper island, but it's definitely a possibility.

Even more likely than that, though, is a temple about 1,350 miles to the southwest of Pohnpei in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. The country has two missions, two stakes, and twelve (!) districts made up of over 27,000 members in 80 wards and branches - significantly more members than Russia. The nearest temple is over 1,300 miles to the south in Brisbane, Australia. I would bet you just about anything that they will have a temple of their own announced within the next ten years.

For Rodrugues to lose its spot on the list, the Church would most likely have to build a temple in Mozambique or Madagascar. Both countries have a mission, multiple stakes, and just over 10,000 members. I'd guess Madagascar is the more likely of the two, since Mozambique is already close to two temples in South Africa and one in Zimbabwe.

You'd think that the towns in Greenland might get knocked off the list by another temple in Canada, but there really aren't any major cities with a concentration of Church members that are closer than the existing temples. The best candidate would actually be Edinburgh or Glasgow, Scotland. The two cities each have a decent cluster of meetinghouses, and it's been twenty years since the last temple was dedicated in the UK, so I think it's entirely plausible.

Al-Hofuf... that is a tough one. A temple in Saratov or Samara, Russia, would bump it off the list. It's hard to think of other realistic possibilities - Albania was the only serious candidate in Europe to come to mind, with 3,000 members and several thousand more in the surrounding countries, but Tirana is just barely over 2,000 miles from Al-Hofuf. India's Church membership is concentrated to the country's south and east, so a second temple there would probably not change anything. Still... I'm not willing to rule out Russia completely.

So I'll refine my prediction just a little:

  1. The Urzhar District will drop off the list of distant locations as soon as the location of the Russia temple is announced.
  2. Pohnpei will drop off the list within a decade.
  3. Yuryung-Khaya, Rodrigues, and Greenland will all drop off the list sometime in the next 20-30 years, give or take.
  4. Al-Hofuf will lose its place eventually, but the time and manner are impossible to predict at this point.
  5. Barring a dramatic change in the Church's philosophy towards temples or an utterly unprecedented mass conversion, Easter Island will sooner or later reach first place and stay there for as long as anyone who remembers this list is around to remember it.

And there you have it: in all likelihood, the second-most conclusive answer to this recurring question that I will ever write. I look forward to updating it as soon as the location of the temple in Russia is announced (although depending on my GIS access, it might not look as fancy). Until then, I hope this has kept you informed and entertained!

-yayfulness