Maps That Might Make You Rethink How You See the World

Antarctica: The Land Without Time

UTC hue4map ATA/Wikimedia Commons.

In almost all places on our planet, local time is determined by lines of longitude, so that the time of day reflects the sun’s position over Earth. This logic crumbles at the South Pole, however, where the lines of longitude converge, so technically all time zones exist at the South Pole. Here’s a breakdown of Antarctica’s timezones:

So why not disregard the lines of longitude and use the sun to estimate the time instead? According to National Geographic, “The sun rises and sets only twice every 12 months here,” meaning that the South Pole experiences up to 24 hours of sunlight in the summer and 24 hours of darkness in the winter. Neither option solves this paradox. Instead, research stations use the timezone of either their home country or that of their supply base. For instance, the United States’ McMurdo Station operates on New Zealand time, because its supplies come from Christchurch, New Zealand (yes, that Christchurch). This does simplify communication with its home base and suppliers, but the choice is nonetheless arbitrary.

Not only does the South Pole lack a true singular timezone, it is also a land without ownership. The Antarctic Treaty, passed in 1961, safeguards the continent as a scientific reserve, banning military activity or weapon testing on the continent. Article 3 of the treaty establishes that no sovereignty may establish territorial claims to Antarctica, so technically the frozen tundra belongs to the advancement of science alone.

By contrast, ownership of the North Pole is a matter of dangerous competing claims by Russia (which even sent a submarine beneath the ice and planted a flag in the seabed), Canada, the United States, and other nations, not only because the catastrophic melting of the ice caps have opened new waterways for transport, but because huge natural gas and oil reserves may lie beneath.

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