Horizontal lines on world maps – the special ones

Last modified 11.04.2024 | Published 06.01.2019World abstracts

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Maps of the Earth include many latitudes. They are the lines which divide the globe horizontally. Five of them have names. Sandalsand has crossed four of them.

The parallels or circles of latitude bearing names

The latitude of the Equator is fixed. But the exact latitude of the others varies. The values below are for 6 January 2019 (Wikipedia). 

The Arctic Circle

Norway - Nordland - Rana - Arctic Circle Center
Norway – Nordland – Rana – Arctic Circle Center

The Arctic Circle is the northernmost circle. It passes through Norway, where my picture was taken in 2023 on crossing the line, on land. Previously I had crossed the line on ships a couple of times. This circle also runs through Sweden, Finland, Russia, USA, Canada, Greenland and Iceland. I have not been across it in any of these countries, save for flyovers. (Links above and below are to Sandalsand’s articles from these countries.)

The Arctic Circle is the southernmost latitude in the Northern Hemisphere at which the sun can remain continuously above or below the horizon for 24 hours (at the June and December solstices respectively).

The Tropic of Cancer

Saudi Arabia - Highway 15 between Medina and Jeddah
Saudi Arabia – Highway 15 between Medina and Jeddah

This circle is sometimes called the Northern Tropic. It is the most northerly circle of latitude on Earth at which the Sun can be directly overhead (zenith). This takes place on the June solstice. 

The Tropic of Cancer passes 16 countries: From Mauritania it continues east to Mali, Algeria, Niger, Libya and Egypt, all in northern Africa. Continuing in an eastward direction the line crosses Saudi Arabia, UAE (Abu Dhabi) and Oman. In Asia it crosses India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, China and Taiwan. In South America is cuts across Mexico and touches a couple of islands in the Bahamas.

I have crossed this line three times on the surface of the earth. The first time was in 1985 on a train from Guangzhou to Guilin in China. The second time I crossed it was a few weeks later, aboard a ship from Shanghai to Hong Kong. The third time was on a road trip from Medina to Jeddah (in Saudi Arabia) in 2024, not far from where the above picture was taken.

The Equator

Ecuador - La Mitad del Mundo - Equator Circle monument
Ecuador – La Mitad del Mundo – Equator Circle monument

The latitude of the Earth’s equator is by definition zero degrees of arc. The Equator is the only line of latitude which is a great circle. Its plane passes through the centre of the globe.

My picture from 1987 is from Ecuador, the only place I have actually crossed it on land or sea. The Equator passes through 11 countries: São Tomé and Príncipe, Gabon, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Kenya, Somalia, Indonesia, Ecuador, Colombia and Brazil.

The Tropic of Capricorn

Namibia - Tropic of Capricorn
Namibia – Tropic of Capricorn in Namibia

This latitude is also called the Southern Tropic. It is the southernmost latitude where the Sun can be directly overhead. In the Southern Hemisphere it is the equivalent of the Tropic of Cancer in the Northern.

I crossed the Tropic of Capricorn in Namibia, and took this photo in 2018. I also passed it on land in northern Chile thirty years before, in 1988, without paying attention at the time.

On land it passes through 10 countries: Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, Mozambique, Madagascar, Australia, Chile, Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil.

The Antarctic Circle

The Antarctic Circle touches outlying regions of the Antarctic land mass several places. This is a continent that I have never been to. I reckon that the crossing of the Antarctic Circle is problematic on land, with the possible exception of the land tongue stretching towards South America.

Most people pay a lot to get to this vast continent, on cruise ships.

There is only one notable longitude

England - London - Greenwich
England – London – Greenwich – The base of the GMT or UTC

The “vertical” lines from pole to pole, called meridians, are not differentiated by names. There is one exception. The Prime Meridian runs through the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, England. This is the zero degrees longitude. I visited this site many years ago (1979) and took this photo. A more recent visit offered the same observation; the clock is still there.

The Prime Meridian crosses eight countries: United Kingdom, France, Spain, Algeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo, and Ghana. Apart from the UK, I have only crossed on land in the northern part of France. Anyway, the Prime Meridian line ends on land in Antarctica, which is a continent and not a country.