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49th parallel north

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Line across the Earth
49th parallel north

The 49th parallel north is a circle of latitude that is 49° north of Earth's equator. It crosses Europe, Asia, the Pacific Ocean, North America, and the Atlantic Ocean.

The city of Paris is about 15 km (9 mi) south of the 49th parallel and is the largest city between the 48th and 49th parallels. Its main airport, Charles de Gaulle Airport, lies on the parallel.

Roughly 3,500 kilometres (2,175 mi) of the Canada–United States border was designated to follow the 49th parallel from British Columbia to Manitoba on the Canada side, and from Washington to Minnesota on the U.S. side, more specifically from the Strait of Georgia to the Lake of the Woods. This international border was specified in the Anglo-American Convention of 1818 and the Oregon Treaty of 1846, though survey markers placed in the 19th century cause the border to deviate from the 49th parallel by up to tens of meters.

From a point on the ground at this latitude, the sun is above the horizon for 16 hours, 12 minutes during the summer solstice and 8 hours, 14 minutes during the winter solstice[1] This latitude also roughly corresponds to the minimum latitude in which astronomical twilight can last all night near the summer solstice. Slightly less than 1/8 of the Earth's surface is north of the 49th parallel.

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Canada and the United States share the longest, straightest, possibly boringest border in the world. But, look closer, and there's plenty of bizarreness to be found. While these sister nations get along fairly well, they both want to make it really clear whose side of the continent is whose. And they've done this by carving a 20-foot wide space along the border. All five and a half thousand miles of it. With the exception of the rare New England town that predates national borders or the odd airport that needed extending, this space is the no-touching-zone between the countries and they're super serious about keeping it clear. It matters not if the no-touching-zone runs through hundreds of miles of virtually uninhabited Alaskan / Yukon wilderness. Those border trees, will not stand. Which might make you think this must be the longest, straightest deforested place in the world, but it isn't. Deforested: yes, but straight? Not at all. Sure it looks straight and on a map, and the treaties establishing the line *say* it's straight... but in the real world the official border is 900 lines that zig-zags from the horizontal by as much as several hundred feet. How did this happen? Well, imagine you're back in North America in the 1800s -- The 49th parallel (one of those horizontal lines you see on a globe) has just been set as the national boundary and it's your job to make it real. You're handed a compass and a ball of string and told to carefully mark off the next 2/3rds of a continent. Don't mind that uncharted wilderness in the way: just keep the line straight. Yeah. Good luck. With that. The men who surveyed the land did the best they could and built over 900 monuments. They're in about as straight as you could expect a pre-GPS civilization to make, but it's not the kind of spherical / planar intersection that would bring a mathematician joy. Nonetheless these monuments define the border and the no-touching-zone plays connect-the-dots with them. Oh, and while there are about 900 markers along this section of the border, there are about 8,000 in total that define the shape of the nations. Despite this massive project Canada and the United States still have disputed territory. There is a series of islands in the Atlantic that the United States claims are part of Maine and Canada claims are part of New Brunswick. Canada, assuming the islands are hers built a lighthouse on one of them, and the United States, assuming the islands are hers pretends the lighthouse doesn't exist. It's not a huge problem as the argument is mostly over tourists who want to see puffins and fishermen who want to catch lobsters, but let's hope the disagreement gets resolved before someone finds oil under that lighthouse. Even the non-disputed territory has a few notably weird spots: such as this tick of the border upward into Canada. Zoom in and it gets stranger as the border isn't over solid land but runs through a lake to cut off a bit of Canada before diving back down to the US. This spot is home to about 100 Americans and is a perfect example of how border irregularities are born: Back in 1783 when the victorious Americans were negotiating with the British who controlled what would one day be Canada, they needed a map, and this map was the best available at the time. While the East Coast looks pretty good, the wester it goes the sparser it gets. Under negotiation was the edge of what would one day be Minnesota and Manitoba. But unfortunately, that area was hidden underneath an inset on the map, so the Americans and British were bordering blind. Seriously. They guessed that the border should start from the northwestern part of this lake and go in a horizontal line until it crossed the Mississippi... somewhere. But somewhere, turned out to be nowhere as the mighty Mississippi stops short of that line, which left the border vague until 35 years later when a second round of negotiations established the aforementioned 49th parallel. But there was still a problem as the lake mentioned earlier was both higher, and less circular than first though, putting its northwesterly point here so the existing border had to jump up to meet it and then drop straight down to the 49th, awkwardly cutting off a bit of Canada, before heading west across the remainder of the continent. Turns out you just can't draw a straight(-ish) line for hundreds of miles without causing a few more problems. One of which was luckily spotted in advance: Vancouver Island, which the 49th would have sliced through, but both sides agreed that would be dumb so the border swoops around the island. However, next door to Vancouver Island is Point Roberts which went unnoticed as so today the border blithey cuts across. It's a nice little town, home to over 1,000 Americans, but has only a primary school so its older kids have to cross international borders four times a day to go to school in their own state. In a pleasing symetry, the East cost has the exact opposite situation with a Canadian Island whose only land route is a bridge to the United States. And these two aren't the only places where each country contains a bit of the other: there are several more, easily spotted in sattelite photos by the no-touching zone. Regardless of if the land in question is just an uninhabited strip, in the middle of a lake, in the middle of nowhere, the border between these sister nations must remain clearly marked.


Around the world

Map all coordinates using: OpenStreetMap 
Download coordinates as: KML · GPX
European countries entirely north of 49° N
European countries entirely north of 49° N

Starting at the Prime Meridian and heading eastwards, the parallel 49° north passes through:

Co-ordinates Country, territory or sea Notes
49°0′N 0°0′E / 49.000°N 0.000°E / 49.000; 0.000 (Prime Meridian)  France Normandy
Île-de-France - crossing a runway of Charles de Gaulle Airport
Grand Est
49°0′N 8°4′E / 49.000°N 8.067°E / 49.000; 8.067 (Germany)  Germany Rhineland-Palatinate
Baden-Württemberg (passing through Karlsruhe city centre)
49°0′N 13°24′E / 49.000°N 13.400°E / 49.000; 13.400 (Czech Republic)  Czech Republic
49°0′N 15°0′E / 49.000°N 15.000°E / 49.000; 15.000 (Austria)  Austria For about 4.8 km (3 mi)
49°0′N 15°4′E / 49.000°N 15.067°E / 49.000; 15.067 (Czech Republic)  Czech Republic For about 5 km (3 mi)
49°0′N 15°8′E / 49.000°N 15.133°E / 49.000; 15.133 (Austria)  Austria For about 120 m
49°0′N 15°8′E / 49.000°N 15.133°E / 49.000; 15.133 (Czech Republic)  Czech Republic
49°0′N 17°57′E / 49.000°N 17.950°E / 49.000; 17.950 (Slovakia)  Slovakia Prešov Region (passing through Prešov city centre)
49°0′N 22°32′E / 49.000°N 22.533°E / 49.000; 22.533 (Ukraine)  Ukraine Zakarpattia Oblast
Lviv Oblast
Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast — passing through Bolekhiv and Kolomyia
Ternopil Oblast — passing just south of Chortkiv
Khmelnytskyi Oblast
Vinnytsia Oblast — passing just south of Zhmerynka
Cherkassy Oblast — passing through Shpola
Kirovohrad Oblast
Poltava Oblast — passing just through Kremenchuk and Horishni Plavni
Dnipropetrovsk Oblast
Kharkiv Oblast
Donetsk Oblast — passing just through Lyman
Luhanska Oblast — passing through Rubizhne
49°0′N 39°42′E / 49.000°N 39.700°E / 49.000; 39.700 (Russia)  Russia Rostov Oblast
Volgograd Oblast
49°0′N 46°55′E / 49.000°N 46.917°E / 49.000; 46.917 (Kazakhstan)  Kazakhstan
49°0′N 86°44′E / 49.000°N 86.733°E / 49.000; 86.733 (China)  People's Republic of China Xinjiang
49°0′N 87°55′E / 49.000°N 87.917°E / 49.000; 87.917 (Mongolia)  Mongolia
49°0′N 116°8′E / 49.000°N 116.133°E / 49.000; 116.133 (China)  People's Republic of China Inner Mongolia
49°0′N 130°0′E / 49.000°N 130.000°E / 49.000; 130.000 (Russia)  Russia Amur Oblast
Jewish Autonomous Oblast
Khabarovsk Krai
49°0′N 140°21′E / 49.000°N 140.350°E / 49.000; 140.350 (Strait of Tartary) Strait of Tartary
49°0′N 142°1′E / 49.000°N 142.017°E / 49.000; 142.017 (Russia)  Russia Island of Sakhalin
49°0′N 142°57′E / 49.000°N 142.950°E / 49.000; 142.950 (Sea of Okhotsk) Sea of Okhotsk Gulf of Patience
49°0′N 144°26′E / 49.000°N 144.433°E / 49.000; 144.433 (Russia)  Russia Island of Sakhalin
49°0′N 144°27′E / 49.000°N 144.450°E / 49.000; 144.450 (Sea of Okhotsk) Sea of Okhotsk Passing between the islands of Kharimkotan and Ekarma in  Russia's Kuril Island chain
49°0′N 154°22′E / 49.000°N 154.367°E / 49.000; 154.367 (Pacific Ocean) Pacific Ocean
49°0′N 125°41′W / 49.000°N 125.683°W / 49.000; -125.683 (Canada)  Canada British Columbia - Vancouver Island, Thetis Island and Galiano Island
49°0′N 123°34′W / 49.000°N 123.567°W / 49.000; -123.567 (Strait of Georgia) Strait of Georgia
49°0′N 123°5′W / 49.000°N 123.083°W / 49.000; -123.083 (United States, passing roughly 300 m south of the US/Canada border)  United States Washington (Point Roberts)
49°0′N 123°2′W / 49.000°N 123.033°W / 49.000; -123.033 (Boundary Bay) Boundary Bay Semiahmoo Bay
49°0′N 122°45′W / 49.000°N 122.750°W / 49.000; -122.750 (United States, passing slightly south of US/Canada border)  United States Washington
49°0′N 121°56′W / 49.000°N 121.933°W / 49.000; -121.933 (Canada)  Canada British Columbia
49°0′N 121°25′W / 49.000°N 121.417°W / 49.000; -121.417 (United States)  United States Washington
49°0′N 120°11′W / 49.000°N 120.183°W / 49.000; -120.183 (Canada)  Canada British Columbia
49°0′N 119°49′W / 49.000°N 119.817°W / 49.000; -119.817 (United States)  United States Washington
49°0′N 117°18′W / 49.000°N 117.300°W / 49.000; -117.300 (Canada)  Canada British Columbia
49°0′N 116°28′W / 49.000°N 116.467°W / 49.000; -116.467 (United States)  United States Idaho, Montana
49°0′N 115°21′W / 49.000°N 115.350°W / 49.000; -115.350 (Canada)  Canada British Columbia
49°0′N 114°57′W / 49.000°N 114.950°W / 49.000; -114.950 (United States)  United States Montana
49°0′N 114°12′W / 49.000°N 114.200°W / 49.000; -114.200 (Canada)  Canada British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan
49°0′N 109°41′W / 49.000°N 109.683°W / 49.000; -109.683 (United States)  United States Montana
49°0′N 109°12′W / 49.000°N 109.200°W / 49.000; -109.200 (Canada)  Canada Saskatchewan
49°0′N 107°22′W / 49.000°N 107.367°W / 49.000; -107.367 (United States)  United States Montana
49°0′N 106°55′W / 49.000°N 106.917°W / 49.000; -106.917 (Canada)  Canada Saskatchewan, Manitoba
49°0′N 98°58′W / 49.000°N 98.967°W / 49.000; -98.967 (United States)  United States North Dakota, Minnesota
49°0′N 96°13′W / 49.000°N 96.217°W / 49.000; -96.217 (Canada)  Canada Manitoba
49°0′N 95°17′W / 49.000°N 95.283°W / 49.000; -95.283 (Lake of the Woods) Lake of the Woods Passing just south of Big Island and Bigsby Island, Ontario,  Canada
49°0′N 94°25′W / 49.000°N 94.417°W / 49.000; -94.417 (Canada)  Canada Ontario
49°0′N 68°38′W / 49.000°N 68.633°W / 49.000; -68.633 (St. Lawrence River) St. Lawrence River
49°0′N 66°58′W / 49.000°N 66.967°W / 49.000; -66.967 (Canada)  Canada Quebec - Gaspé Peninsula
49°0′N 64°24′W / 49.000°N 64.400°W / 49.000; -64.400 (Gulf of St. Lawrence) Gulf of St. Lawrence Passing just south of Anticosti Island, Quebec,  Canada
49°0′N 58°31′W / 49.000°N 58.517°W / 49.000; -58.517 (Canada)  Canada Newfoundland and Labrador - island of Newfoundland
49°0′N 53°44′W / 49.000°N 53.733°W / 49.000; -53.733 (Atlantic Ocean) Atlantic Ocean
49°0′N 5°38′W / 49.000°N 5.633°W / 49.000; -5.633 (English Channel) English Channel Gulf of Saint-Malo - passing just south of the island of  Jersey
49°0′N 1°33′W / 49.000°N 1.550°W / 49.000; -1.550 (France)  France Normandy

Monuments on the parallel

The Peace Arch border
The Peace Arch border

Canada–United States border

49th parallel at Waterton Lake, showing the cleared strip of land along the U.S./Canada border
49th parallel at Waterton Lake, showing the cleared strip of land along the U.S./Canada border


In 1714, the Hudson's Bay Company proposed the 49th parallel as the western portion of the boundary between the company's land and French territory. At the time, Britain and France had agreed, in the Treaty of Utrecht, to negotiate a boundary, but negotiations ultimately failed.[2]

Following the Louisiana Purchase by the United States in 1803, it was generally agreed that the boundary between the new territory and British North America was along the watershed between the Missouri River and Mississippi River basins on one side and the Hudson Bay basin on the other. However, it is often difficult to precisely determine the location of a watershed in a region of level plains, such as in central North America. The British and American committees that met after the War of 1812 to resolve boundary disputes recognized there would be much animosity in surveying the watershed boundary, and agreed on a simpler border solution in the Treaty of 1818: the 49th parallel. Both sides gained and lost some territory by this convention, but the United States gained more than it lost, in particular securing title to the Red River Basin. This treaty established the boundary only between the line of longitude of the northwesternmost point of Lake of the Woods, on the east, and the Rocky Mountains, on the west. West of the Rockies, the treaty established joint occupation of the Oregon Country by both parties; east of Lake of the Woods, the boundary established in the Treaty of Paris would be retained.

Although the Convention of 1818 settled the boundary, neither country was immediately able to control over the territories on its side of the line: effective control still rested with local Indian tribes, mainly the Métis, Assiniboine, Lakota and Blackfoot. Their power was gradually ceded by conquest and treaty during the several decades that followed. Among these peoples, the 49th parallel was nicknamed the Medicine Line because of its seemingly magical ability to prevent U.S. soldiers from crossing it.

In the 1844 U.S. presidential election, the Democratic Party asserted that the northern border of the Oregon Territory should be 54°40′, later reflected in the 1846 slogan "Fifty-Four Forty or Fight!" However, the Oregon boundary dispute was settled diplomatically in the 1846 Oregon Treaty. This agreement divided the Oregon Country between British North America and the United States by extending the 49th parallel boundary to the west coast, ending in the Strait of Georgia; it then circumvents Vancouver Island through Boundary Pass, Haro Strait, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. This had the side effect of isolating Point Roberts, Washington.

As border

A typical boundary marker, one of many along the 49th parallel. This one divides Blaine, Washington from Surrey, British Columbia.
A typical boundary marker, one of many along the 49th parallel. This one divides Blaine, Washington from Surrey, British Columbia.
The 49th parallel north as a border between the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba (to the north), and the U.S. states of Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota (to the south).
The 49th parallel north as a border between the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba (to the north), and the U.S. states of Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota (to the south).

Although parts of Vancouver Island and parts of Eastern Canada are south of the 49th parallel, and parts of the United States (Alaska, Northwest Angle) are north of it, the term 49th parallel is sometimes used metonymically to refer to the entire Canada-U.S. border. Actually, many of Canada's most populated regions (and about 72% of the population) are south of the 49th parallel, including the two largest cities Toronto (43°42′ north) and Montreal (45°30′ north), the federal capital Ottawa (45°25′ north) and the capitals of all provinces except the Prairie provinces (Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba), these being the only provinces entirely north of the 49th parallel. The three Maritime provinces are each entirely south of the parallel, but the vast majority of Canadian territory lies north of it.

Parts of the 49th parallel were originally surveyed using astronomical techniques that did not take into account slight departures of the Earth's shape from a simple ellipsoid, or the deflection of the plumb-bob by differences in terrestrial mass. The surveys were subject to the limitations of early to mid-19th century technology, but accurate results were obtained. However, in some places the surveyed 49th parallel is several hundred feet from the geographical 49th parallel for the currently adopted datum, the North American Datum of 1983 (NAD 83). The Digital Chart of the World (DCW), which uses the Clarke 1866 ellipsoid, reports the border on average at latitude 48° 59′ 51″ north, roughly 270 metres (886 ft) south of the modern 49th parallel. It ranges between 48° 59′ 25″ and 49° 0′ 10″ north, 810 metres (2,657 ft) and 590 metres (1,936 ft) on either side of the average. In any case, the Earth's North Pole moves around slightly, notionally moving the 49th and other parallels with it; see polar motion.

The Northwest Angle is the only part of the contiguous 48 states that goes north of the 49th parallel. The Treaty of Paris called for the boundary between the US and British territory to pass through the most northwesterly point of Lake of the Woods, and this was retained even after an 1818 treaty set the boundary west of that point to follow the 49th parallel.

At the time that the United States and Great Britain agreed on the 49th parallel as the boundary, much of the North American continent had not yet been mapped. After the boundary was established, British surveyors discovered that Point Roberts lay south of the 49th parallel. The British requested that the United States cede the territory to Great Britain, but no action was ever taken.

In 1909 the United States, United Kingdom and Canada signed and ratified a treaty confirming the original survey lines as the official and permanent international border. Nevertheless, in 2002 the difference of the survey from the geographical 49th parallel was argued in front of the Washington Supreme Court in the case of State of Washington v. Norman,[3] under the premise that Washington did not properly incorporate the portions of land north of the geographical 49th parallel, as laid out by detailed GPS surveying. The court decided against the premise, ruling that the internationally surveyed boundary also served as the state boundary, regardless of its actual position.

Ordnance Survey of Great Britain

The British national grid reference system uses the point 49° N, 2° W as its true origin. 49°00′00″N 2°00′00″W / 49.0000°N 2.0000°W / 49.0000; -2.0000[4]

See also


  1. ^ "Duration of Daylight/Darkness Table for One Year".
  2. ^ Lass, William E. Minnesota's Boundary with Canada: Its Evolution Since 1783. p. 28. Retrieved 8 February 2018.
  3. ^ State v. Norman 145 Wn.2d 578 (2002)
  4. ^ "The true origin". Welcome to OS Net. Southampton: Ordnance Survey. 4 September 2007. Archived from the original on 5 December 2008. Retrieved 13 August 2009.

This page was last edited on 19 December 2018, at 09:28
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