Wake Atoll is situated 2004 nautical miles west of Honolulu and thirteen hundred two (1302)nautical miles northeast of Guam; it has an area of about two and one-half square miles. Wishbone-shaped, the atoll lies at 19 degrees, 18 minutes, of latitude north of the Equator and 166 degrees, 35 minutes, of longitude east of Greenwich, England.
Composed of a reef-enclosed lagoon, the atoll consists of three coral islands (Peale, Wake and Wilkes), built upon an underwater volcano. The atoll's central lagoon is the volcano crater; the islands are part of the rim. Wake Island, the main or center section of the "wishbone", is much the largest of the three islands. "V"-shaped and pointed towards the southeast, Wake Island comprises the outer perimeter of the eastern half of the atoll. Peale and Wilkes Islands continue the open ends of the prongs of the "wishbone" on the north and south respectively. The northwestern side of the atoll is open, except for the coral reef, which surrounds the atoll and completes the lagoon's enclosure.
The surface of the three islands is a smooth roll of disintegrated coral, interspersed with boulders, which are most numerous on Wilkes and the southern leg of Wake Island, where they range to five or six feet in diameter. Trees, thick tropic shrub growth (often with thorns) and grasses are scattered through the islands and provide much opportunity for natural concealment. Vegetation is densest on the south leg of Wake Island, west and south of the airfield. Trees sometimes reach a height of 20 to 25 feet, but the towering coconut palms found on most atolls are missing.
Maximum elevation on the atoll is 21 feet, with an average height of 12 feet above sea level. The outside, seaward face of Wake Island maintains a fairly uniform elevation of approximately 18 feet with a gradual slant to the center of the island and then to the lagoon side.
There are three high points in the atoll, all above 20 feet: on Wake Island at Heel Point, on Peale Island at the seaward side about 500 yards from Toki Point and on Wilkes Island at the lagoon side some seven hundred 50 yards from Kuku Point.
The atoll's beaches are of white coral sand. At many places along the shore line the beaches are strewn with jagged coral rocks and king-size boulders. Beaches vary in width from 20 to 170 yards but average 100 yards. The narrowest beaches are located on the north coast. Beach slope is quite gradual. Natural terraces or embankments exist only along the north coast, except along the south shore of Wilkes. At the coast line or vegetation line there is frequently a moderate rise in elevation. Exits from the beaches are available at all points.
Although it has an airfield with a runway measuring 9800 feet, the atoll has no ports. Bridges and roads connect the islands, but most development has been on Wake. A U.S. Coast Guard LORAN station stands on Peale, which otherwise serves mostly as a recreation area.
Because of its reefs, the atolls has only two offshore anchorages for large ships.
Deep water surrounds the entire atoll. Inside the lagoon the mean tide range is about one and one-half feet. Low tides have a stand of two to three hours. Due to the porous soil, drainage is good, too much so in fact, so that no natural water supply is available. Lack of fresh water probably explains why the atoll has had no indigenous inhabitants. Rainwater is caught in huge water catchments and is supplemented by a distillation plant.
By means of Executive Order No. 11048, Part I (September 5, 1962), the President of the United States made the Secretary of the Interior responsible for the civil administration of the atoll. The order vested in the Secretary all executive and legislative authority necessary for that administration and all judicial authority other than the authority of the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii.
The Congress has extended the jurisdiction of the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii to all civil and criminal cases arising on or within Wake Atoll. All civil acts and deeds consummated and taking place in the atoll or in the waters adjacent to the atoll are deemed to have been consummated or committed on the high seas on board a U.S. merchant vessel or other U.S. vessel. According to U.S. maritime law, the court adjudicates or adjudges these acts or deeds and, as appropriate, punishes them. To effect this purpose, U.S. maritime law has been extended over the atoll. U.S. laws relating to juries and jury trials apply to the trial of such cases before the U.S. District Court in Honolulu. Title 48, U.S. Code, section 644a.
The atoll has approximately 302 inhabitants. Since October 1, 1994, the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (within the Office of the Secretary of Defense) has funded Wake's actual administration, which the U.S. Army Space and Strategic Defense Command (SSDC) carries out under a use permit.
Wake is occasionally battered by a typhoon. The climate is tropical. There is no wide variation in temperature. Yearly maximum is 95 degrees Fahrenheit; minimum, 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Mean monthly temperatures run from 76 to 83 degrees Fahrenheit. Rainfall is light, averaging fewer than 40 inches per annum. The wettest season is from July through October.
The atoll lies in the best of the northeast trade winds, and more than 50 per centum of the wind observations range from east to northeast during all seasons of the year. Average cloud coverage for the year is approximately 50 per centum too, being heaviest during the late summer and early fall, with cumulus clouds predominant.
Access to Wake Atoll is strictly regulated, and an unauthorized visit without proper permission is firmly prohibited. One may contact the atoll’s administration directly by telephone at (808) 424-2222 or (808) 424-2101. Although located in Wake, these two numbers are in the Pearl Harbor (Honolulu, Hawaii) exchange. Local time in Wake is 16 hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time; 17 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.
If one has any legal questions about the atoll's current use, one should contact Ronald Riggs, Esq., of the U.S. Army SSDC at (703) 607-1880 in Arlington, Virginia. Mr. Riggs' mailing address is U.S. Army Space and Strategic Defense Command, Post Office Box 15280,Arlington, Virginia 22215.
All other questions should be directed to the office of Mr. Robert Francis Shearer at (205)955-1288 in Huntsville, Alabama. Mr. Shearer is the U.S. Army SSDC's Assistant Chief of Staff for Installations, Logistics and the Environment; his mailing address is Office of the Deputy Commander, U.S. Army Space and Strategic Defense Command, Attention: CSSD-EN, Post Office Box 1500, Huntsville, Alabama 35807.
The atoll's mailing address is Wake Atoll 96898 or Army Post Office San Francisco, California96501. If one uses the Army Post Office address in sending mail to Wake Atoll, one must not write Wake Atoll anywhere whatsoever on the envelope!
CIA World Book Fact Sheet
Wake Weather Station