U.S. flag An official website of the United States government.

dot gov icon Official websites use .gov

A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

https icon Secure websites use HTTPS

A small lock or https:// means you’ve safely connected to a .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Marking Our Nation's Center of Population

8 September 2022

Once every ten years, NOAA and the U.S. Census Bureau team up to capture snapshots of how our nation's population is changing over time. Learn about this special partnership — and our new "center of population" — in this video message from NOS Assistant Administrator Nicole LeBoeuf.    (Video Transcript)

Nicole R. LeBoeuf
Assistant Administrator
Ocean Services and Coastal Zone Management,
National Ocean Service

Video Transcript

Hello everyone! I’m Nicole LeBoeuf, Assistant Administrator for NOAA’s National Ocean Service. I’m here today to tell you about a collaboration between NOAA and the U.S. Census Bureau. For over 60 years, NOAA’s National Geodetic Survey has partnered with the Census Bureau to capture snapshots of our nation’s population every ten years when the U.S. census is conducted. You see, every ten years, NOAA and the U.S. Census Bureau calculate the “center of the population.” This is the location where an imaginary, flat, weightless, and rigid map of the United States would balance perfectly if all Americans were of identical weight. By using the latitude and longitude information from the Census Bureau, scientists from NOAA’s National Geodetic Survey precisely locate the center of population at a point on the ground - designating it as that perfectly balanced location. Now, for the big reveal. The United States’ 2020 center of population is located 15 miles northeast of Hartville, Missouri. Settled in the early 19th century and with a population of 594 citizens as of the 2020 census, Hartville is the county seat of Wright County, Missouri. Later this month, the Census Bureau, NOAA, as well as state and local agencies will come together for an event to unveil a geodetic survey mark at the center of population and present it to the town of Hartville. Aside from adding a bit of name recognition to a town or city, survey marks like this are beneficial to the local community. They are used by land surveyors as a starting point for many projects that require accurate positioning.

This includes engineering and construction projects, from single family homes to city buildings, and to infrastructure over large areas like roads, railways, waterways, and electric grids. NOAA’s National Geodetic Survey is key to this partnership because of their expertise in surveying and mapping, and because of their role in defining and maintaining the National Spatial Reference System. This system is a huge network of reference points used every day to support the creation of maps and any activities that need accurate position information.

Like when you use your smartphone apps to figure out where you are, get directions, or use any apps that are better informed by knowing your location. New technologies will continue to transform how surveying and mapping is conducted and will play a key role as NOAA modernizes the National Spatial Reference System. This decades-long endeavor will reduce our reliance on using geodetic marks in the ground, to using the Global Positioning System or G-P-S, as well as other Global Navigation Satellite Systems and more. Using GPS stations that continuously collect data will provide our scientists with up-to-date information to help them measure, monitor, and better understand the physical and geometric properties of the Earth.

Because the Earth’s surface is pretty much always changing shape, when we use physical survey marks like the one we’ll be installing in Hartville, surveyors may need to return to that place and obtain new measurements over time. Although it might be a good reason to get back to Missouri, modernizing the system will save time and money for everyone who conducts surveying and mapping. That said, as we continue to use - and even depend on - newer technology, we still need ways to easily check our work and make sure the data is correct.

Survey markers in the ground provide us this information and, even though we’ve been using them for a very long time, they will remain important for surveying and mapping in the future. Although many of us might not think about surveying and mapping very often, it touches so many parts of our daily lives.

If you’d like to learn more about the work of NOAA’s National Geodetic Survey, please visit us at geodesy.noaa.gov. That’s geodesy.noaa.gov. I’m excited for what the future holds — continuing to work with other federal agencies, modernizing the National Spatial Reference System, and providing information essential to serving the needs of our nation every day. Thank you.

Assistant Administrator (Actg.) Portrait

Nicole R. LeBoeuf
Assistant Administrator, National Ocean Service

More Information

Get Social