the 45th Parallel
Halfway between the North Pole and the Equator,
an imaginary line circles the earth.

If you stand on this line, you may not realize that the same latitude connects the prairies of South Dakota and the piney woods of Maine to the wine regions of Bordeaux, the Crimean peninsula, the deserts of Mongolia, and the snowy northern tip of Japan. What do these disparate regions of the earth have in common? Only that every day the sun will shine down on each place at exactly the same angle. Sun-seeking residents of Salem, Oregon and Minneapolis, Minnesota can take comfort knowing that the citizens of Turin, Italy enjoy exactly the same length of daylight on the other side of the earth.

While it is commonly said that the 45th Parallel is halfway between the equator and the pole, this is not precisely true. Due to its rotation, the earth is not a perfect sphere but is an oblate spheroid which bulges unevenly at the equator. Because of this distortion, a line drawn at a 45° angle from the center of the earth will not quite meet the midpoint of a line drawn along the planet's surface. The point halfway between the equator and north pole lies roughly 10 miles north of 45° latitude. (For a technical explanation see Steven Dutch's article "Halfway to the Pole.")

Those of us in the northern hemisphere are blessed with many places to experience the wonder of the 45th Parallel, while those in the southern side of the globe must make due with only two small places where 45° South makes landfall. The southern parallel tracks across New Zealand momentarily before returning to its lonely journey across the sea, bypasses Africa entirely and surfaces again for a brief crossing of windswept Patagonia in South America.

The 45th Parallel is not visible to most eyes, but devotees of the intagible world of latitudes and longitudes have here and there incarnated it in physical monuments for the rest of us to see. In small towns and along country highways the 45° traveller will find simple road signs and elaborate stone markers alerting all passersby to think about how these particular places are connected to the rest of the globe, and by extension to our place in the entire cosmos.

North America Markers Europe & Asia Markers

45th Parallel Links

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Copyright ©2011 Matt Bergstrom