For some reason, I found myself wondering the other day about time zones. Initially, it was because it occurred to me that near the poles, because the zones are based on longitude lines which run north-south from pole to pole, the concept of “time zone” becomes an absurdity, in that the closer one gets to the geographic pole, the easier it is to, say, traverse several “hours”‘ worth of time in less than those clock hours. (In fact, in terms of the sun, a “day” is effectively equal to a year – and it’s apparently conventional merely to use Greenwich Mean Time in Antarctic research facilities.)
Looking at a world time-zone map (click on the small image to view an enlarged image), I’m struck by the oddity of certain artifacts. For practical reasons, people don’t want time zone changes right in the middle of major geographic entities (a city, say – or even a smallish state), and as a result, some zones are distended several hours from the time they’d be basing their time solely on solar noon. One of the more striking examples is Alaska (unfortunately split in half on this map), which from east to west would span four time zones, but is almost entirely in a zone one hour later than U.S. Pacific time. This already places the bulk of the state an hour earlier than its geographic location would suggest…but a further absurdity arises when a handful of the westernmost Aleutian Islands is in the next westerly time zone – even though its location is about three hours west of the central meridian for 9 hours after GMT, and in fact would cross the International Date Line if not for a convenient bend. Is there that much going on out there that two hours’ difference would cause such havoc?
On the other hand, some locations seem almost absurdly punctilious in attempting to match local time to solar time, with their time being half an hour different from the adjacent time zone (India, Newfoundland) and – in the case of the tiny Chatham Islands off New Zealand, forty-five minutes different. Wouldn’t it be easier just to be fifteen minutes late?
Anyway, here’s a Cold War artifact on certain implications of this subject:
Negativland “Time Zones”