Time zones are pretty simple, right? In the EU, there are three standardised time zones: Western European Time in Ireland and Portugal, Central European Time, covering the bulk of the mainland such as Germany and Poland, and Eastern European Time, which includes Estonia, Finland, Lithuania, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and Cyprus.
In 1884, 26 countries met in Washington, DC, to attend the Meridian Conference. Time was standardised and a prime meridian was chosen as Greenwich, London (hence Greenwich Mean Time), with eight countries aligning including, France, Spain, Algeria and Togo. That line determines the rest of the time zones around the world.
However, not all countries follow the same conventions: China, for instance, operates in one single time zone (CST). Australia, on the other hand, has three time zones. That’s not to mention half-hour time zones, similar to the old Amsterdam time, which ruled that Amsterdam was 20 minutes ahead of London.
When there’s such little inconsistency, quirks are bound to appear, and these are some of the strangest.
Time Zones in the US
The US is divided into six standard time zones. The majority of them follow daylight saving time (DST) for approximately half a year starting from the spring months. However, considering the size of the country, the amount of time zones is quite normal.
The odd thing, however, is that even if the US has very distinct time zones, it still has no defined boundaries for them.
These six zones are:
- Hawaii, zone W includes Hawaii and the Aleutian Islands, and there is no daylight saving
- Alaska, Zone V
- Pacific, Zone U, comprises the stated on the Pacific coast, Nevada and Idaho
- Mountain is Zone T, and it covers the states that include the Rocky Mountains and the western part of the Great Plains
- Central, Zone S, comprises the Gulf Coast, Mississippi Valley, and the majority of the Great Plains,
- Eastern, also called Zone R, includes the states on the Atlantic coast and the eastern part of the Ohio Valley
The boundaries of these time zones are regulated by the Department of Transportation, but there is still no clear map of it. In September 2022, the DOT declared that a project of creating this map exists and that it will be published once completed. This is after investigators found no evidence of an official map of the time zone boundaries.
A report by the inspector general of the DOT explained that “The official boundaries are narratively described with various types of coordinates and geographic features such as lines of longitude, State or country lines, and rivers.”
Since 2007, the standard time zones are categorised in hourly intervals from UTC, while they were based on the movement of the Sun in the sky compared with meridians 15° apart west Greenwich (GMT).
Time zones in China
China is the third-largest country in the world, with almost 1.5 bln people living in it. It would be logical to think that multiple time zones existed in China, however, it would be wrong. In fact, the country has only one time zone, even if its territory spreads into almost five geographical time zones.
With the official national standard time being Beijing Time (BJT) or China Standard Time (CST), daylight saving time has not been part of the picture since 1991.
However, a part of China uses an unofficial time zone. Xinjiang, a region in the most western part of the country, uses a different local time known as Xinjiang Time, which is two hours behind CST.
If it were independent, Greenland would be the world’s 12th largest country in terms of size. However, its parent nation is Denmark.
Greenland has three different time zones, as most of the country is three hours behind Greenwich Mean Time. Ittoqqortoormiit, a town on the eastern coast, has its clock set two hours earlier instead (GMT-1).
On the other hand, Thule Air Base, run by the United States Air Force in the northwest part of Greenland, runs on GMT-4. The weather station in Danmarkshavn, with a population of eight people, runs on GMT.
A province of Canada, Newfoundland does not follow the Canadian time zone system.
The largest part of Canada runs on GMT-4 in the East and in GMT-5 in Central, while the Mountain area runs on GMT-6, the Pacific on GMT-7 and the Atlantic on GMT-8.
However, Newfoundland distinguishes itself, as it runs on GMT-2:30. This has historical reasons behind it, which derive from when Newfoundland was a separate colony and it established its own time zone. In 1963, when it became part of Canada, Newfoundland’s locals were opposed to the idea of following in Canada’s footsteps.
Half-hour time zones
They differ from others as they are a little more complicated and extreme.
There are a few countries which decided to adhere to this particular time of time zone, such as Iran, which runs on GMT+3:30. India, too, runs on UTC+5:30 (GMT+5:30).
Some other examples are Afghanistan, running on GMT+4:30 and Burma, which uses GMT+6:30. North Korea too runs on a half-hour time zone, GMT+8:30 to be precise, which is what the Korean region used before the Japanese occupation.
Nepal’s confusing time zone
In South East Asia, between China and India, Nepal lives in its own bubble. With a completely different and unique time zone, this country runs GMT+5:45.
This is because theoretically, the mean time in Kathmandu, which is the approximate time of when the Sun is highest at noon, is five hours, 41 minutes and 16 seconds ahead of GMT.
The international dateline
The international dateline is the line of demarcation between two consecutive calendar dates. Let us explain better.
First established in 1884, it is an imaginary line that goes through the mid-Pacific Ocean and follows a 180 degrees longitude north-south path on the Earth. Compared to the prime meridian, which is the zero degrees longitude line in Greenwich, the international date line is approximately halfway around the world.
Even if it is a “line”, it is not straight at all. Running from the North Pole to the South Pole, it curves around countries and national borders.
It is an interesting concept, as if anyone were to cross the line they would virtually become a time traveller: if one crossed towards the west, it would be one day later and if they decided to go back and cross it again it would be the day before.
Even if it sounds official, however, it is not. The international date line has no legal or international recognition, and countries do not have to respect it in their calendars.
There are some quirks that the international date line causes. For instance, depending on which zone the country follows, the time difference on either side of the line is not always 24 hours. For instance, travelling from Baker Island to Tokelau, one must add 25 hours instead of 24.
On planet Earth, every day between 10:00 and 11:59 UTC, there will be three different calendar dates in use at the same time.
Australia is one of the most complex countries when it comes to time zones. In fact, it has multiple. Some are half-hour and quarter-hour time zones, and not all states inside the country use Daylight Saving Time (DST).
For instance, the state of Western Australia runs on GMT+8, which is a standard time zone considering the position of the country. In addition, the states of New South Wales, Tasmania, Victoria, the Capital Territory and Queensland run no GMT+10.
The middle states of South Australia, on the other hand, defy every rule. Even if they should run on GMT+9 as they are almost perfectly at a 135 degrees west position from the centre of the +9 zone, they run on GMT+9:30.
In summary, Australia follows three time zones:
- Australian Western Standard Time (AWST, GMT+8)
- Australian Central Standard Time (ACST, GMT+9:30)
- Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST, GMT+10)
Furthermore, seasons also influence how the time zone division of Australia works. The southern states of Southern Australia, New South Wales, Tasmania, Victoria and the Capital Territory use daylight saving time, but the other states don’t. This means that for half the year, the country has five time zones instead of three.
There are some differences between states as well. For instance, Broken Hill in New South Wales does not respect its region’s time zone, instead, it uses Australian Central Standard Time, which is 30 minutes behind the rest of the state. Eucla too, in Western Australia, is 45 minutes ahead of the rest of the state with its own time zone, called Australian Central Western Standard Time (ACWST). Eucla is also part of the smallest time zone in Australia, which comprises less than 100 people and uses GMT+8:45.
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