My Travel Box – American Meridian Edition

On August 1, 2010 · 4 Comments

My Travel Box article led to more interest that I expected both from longstanding and recent readers. It proves once again that I have no idea what resonates with a larger audience so I’ll continue to write about what I find personally interesting the hope a few of you join me for the ride.

Go ahead and take a quick look if you didn’t learn about the Travel Box because I’m going to use it as the conceptual basis for the current article with a twist.

I mentioned that people in England would be at a severe disadvantaged if they wanted to play the Travel Box game. They live too close too Prime Meridian in Greenwich. They would receive an artificially low score by birth. Loyal reader Hamish commented that maybe it would be more fair to use one’s own residence a a personal prime meridian. I agree. It’s a better indicator of actual east-west travel than an arbitrary selection at Greenwich.

A major meridian once existed near my home: the American Meridian that ran through the dome of the Old Naval Observatory in Washington, DC. The United States used that meridian to anchor numerous state boundaries beginning about 1850. They switched to the universal standard circa 1884 after the International Meridian Conference agreed upon Greenwich. I live maybe a couple of kilometres west of the imaginary line. I can even see the dome of the old observatory from some of the taller buildings in my neighborhood. That’s a situation that would be familiar to many geography-savvy residents of the greater London area with respect to Greenwich today.

I imagined that somehow the Conference had selected the American Meridian way back in 1884 and I recalculated my Travel Box. The Old Naval Observatory sits directly atop Longitude 0.00° in that scenario instead of 77.05° W and the hemispheric boundaries move nearly a quarter turn towards the west.

Let’s move the Prime Meridian to Washington, DC and see what happens.

View My Travel Box – American Meridian in a larger map

That changes things. My east-west travel shrinks considerably and a dirty little secret becomes visible to the faithful readers of the Twelve Mile Circle: I’ve never traveled to the Middle East or to much of Asia (Japan being the exception). I had vague plans to visit China several years ago but they never materialized. Hopefully I will correct that someday.

I’ve shaded the "new" eastern hemispherem on the map to help with visualization. Zero longitude runs directly through Washington, DC (the black vertical line), and 180 longitude runs directly through the Asian landmass (the red vertical line).

View My Travel Box – American Meridian in a larger map

This alternate universe would create all sorts of interesting dilemmas avoided entirely by the selection of Greenwich. The International Date Line now cuts across a large continental landmass rather than generally across open water. I don’t know if that was a major consideration back in 1884 but it certainly simplifies the situation today. Russia, Mongolia and China are cleaved nearly in half between the two hemispheres in the American Meridian model. Several other countries are clipped.

China would face a particularly difficult choice because the entire nation follows a single time zone. Beijing falls into the western hemisphere on an American Meridian map. Would they be content to be the nation that ends the planetary day, or would choose to throw their weight into the American Meridian eastern hemisphere to start the day? Kiribati switched and became the first nation to enter the Year 2000 so maybe China, in my alternate universe, would do the same as a means to demonstrate its ascendancy.

Either way, the International Date Line on an American Meridian globe would have some serious doglegs.

That’s an interesting divergence and maybe a thought worth exploring on another day, but let’s get back to the original subject: my revised Travel Box using the American Meridian. It’s all about me, isn’t it? I kidding; that’s supposed to be a (poorly executed) joke. Anyway, moving right along…

North and South remain the same. The equator doesn’t change nor do the poles. Those are all constants during our lifetimes whereas the meridian is an artificial demarcation. The people of Gabon will have more difficulty scoring high than those of us living in temperate climates, and to them I apologize. However, I don’t think I’ll shift the model to place my residence on a fictional equator. It creates too many complexities even for a hypothetical scenario.


Ferry between Gdansk and Hel Peninsula in Poland
I rode to Hel and Back — far to long for such a bad pun.

My most extreme eastern eastern journey within the new paradigm becomes Warsaw (Warszawa) Poland at 98.06° East of the American Meridian, which is 21.01° E of Greenwich.

This isn’t actually a photograph of Warsaw, it’s Gdansk. I spent most of my time in Krakow and a lesser amount in Gdansk and the Czech Republic. I reviewed my collection of photos from Warsaw and they weren’t all that remarkable. I saw a lot of post-war Soviet brutalist architecture: imagine rows of rectangular concrete communist apartment blocks that haven’t aged well and you’ll get the idea. I’m sure Warsaw is a lovely place, and it’s certainly historic, but I didn’t get to see those parts. I used Warsaw primarily for its international airport and I spent most of my time elsewhere. Still, it scores top billing as my easternmost personal attainment in an American Meridian world.


Kentucky Fried Chicken in Japan
I Visited Colonel Harland "Samurai" Sanders in Osaka

It’s hard to think of Japan as "west" but that’s what it becomes under the confines of an American Meridian. Thus, my westernmost travel using these rules brought me to Osaka. It’s 147.45° West of the American Meridian, while corresponding to 135.50° East of Greenwich.

My American Meridian longitudes ranged from 147.45° West to 98.06° East, a total coverage of 245.51°. Divide that by the available 360° and it equals 68%. That’s not as good as the 87% that I achieved using the Prime Meridian at Greenwich but it’s still within a respectable range.

I think I used too much brain on this one. I need a nap.


On August 1, 2010 · 4 Comments

4 Responses to “My Travel Box – American Meridian Edition”

  1. pfly says:

    Nice work! My sad little travel box (either prime meridian method!) is limited to Kauai (west/south), Rome, and Mt Robson, BC. My wife’s is closer to yours: Mt Robson, BC on the north, like me (and quite a bit less north than your Iceland), off the south end of South Island, New Zealand on the south, somewhere in the Blue Mountains near Sydney for east (or west under alternate the alternate meridian scheme), and either Rome or Munich for the alternate scheme east (not sure offhand which is more east–probably Rome, in which case the precise point is the Colleseum!).

  2. pfly says:

    And hey, what an idea, making an artificial equator for this, based on, I assume, your local homeland and its antipode, as a great circle perpendicular to your local prime meridian? Thinking about how to draw and map points on such a globe hurts my head, and would probably only reduce the sizes of our boxes. Oofta.

  3. Hamish says:

    Well, I live in Vancouver, British Columbia (or near enough) which is located at more or less 123 West. So lets see what my travel box would be.

    North: Oslo Airport in the spring of 2007. 60.183° N

    South: Somewhere on the south shore of Hong Kong Island in Feb 1992. 22.217° N

    So my north/south percentage is a measly 21.1% – but I am going to Australia very soon, so this will change.

    But my east/west is far more impressive.

    So my Vancouver Meridian is 127° West, so the exact opposite for me would be 57° East – which runs through eastern Oman and Iran. As luck would have it I have been pretty close to here – Dubai and the airport is at 51.358° East. I flew from there in the fall of 2004 to Afghanistan, which is the closest I have been on the other side of my line. The farthest west I got in that county was in Ghazni at 68.420° East.

    This makes my east/west score – 346.938° or 96.4%.

    But this raises another question – for people who have not flown around the world, how big is your gap? That is the distance between the farthest you have flown one way vs the farthest you have gone the other way. My gap is the difference between Dhaka, Bangladesh at 90.4° East and somewhere just west of Beijing at say 116° East. So my gap is 25.6°. What’s yours?

    • Mine would remain the same as the American Meridian calculation under that constraint: west as far as Osaka (second best – Jenolan Caves in Australia’s Blue Mountains) and east as far as Warsaw.

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