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CHASING TIME

Time Zone Deviants, Part I: the strangest time zones in the world

By Kyle Kusch

Founder, Basement Geographer

In Canada, the island of Newfoundland has a reputation for being quirky and unique. One of those quirky, unique things that sets it apart is its time zone, which deviates from the regular standard time zone scheme by a half-hour. (“That’s 10:00 tonight on The National, 10:30 in Newfoundland.”) Nowhere else in all of North America does a jurisdiction deviate from Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) on the half-hour. But if you look at the map above, you’ll see why Newfoundland chose that half-hour deviation, as it sits right on the edge of UTC -4 (aka Atlantic Standard Time), almost jutting into UTC -3.

Why have the sun be directly overhead at 11:40 when it can be directly overhead at 12:10 instead? You’ll get sunlight a half-hour later in your day and still be more accurate, chronologically, with regard to the sun. You may notice, however, that the French collectivity of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon just to the south of Newfoundland is a half-hour ahead despite being at exactly the same longitude. By traveling west on the ferry from Newfoundland, you actually travel forward in time a half-hour. How do you move ahead in time traveling west, not east (besides the IDL, of course)? Sandford Fleming must be turning in his grave!

Welcome to the world of standard time, where the only international rule is keeping your clocks in sync with UTC (aka Greenwich Mean Time).

Why have the sun be directly overhead at 11:40 when it can be directly overhead at 12:10 instead?

Everything else is open season. Everyone chooses their own standard time offset; everyone chooses when to switch to daylight saving time (or even whether or not to use it at all); everyone chooses their own time zone boundaries. There aren’t orderly 15 degree-wide slices of the earth as intended, no sir. Many jurisdictions find it easier to manage their territory by having all of its territory under the same time zones, no matter how deviated from solar time they get. More often than not, time zones seem to get pushed to the east more often than they do to the west in order to take advantage of the sun.

Despite crossing five standard time zones, all of China has been standardized to Beijing time.

The biggest non-IDL time gain to be found is along the 76 kilometer (47 mile) border between Afghanistan and China, which gains or loses you three-and-a-half hours at once, depending on from which direction you’re traveling. That’s because despite crossing five standard time zones, since the beginning of the Communist Party rule in China in 1949, all of China has been standardized to Beijing time (UTC +8). Unofficially, however, much of Xinjiang, including the regional government, uses UTC +6, lest it result in events such as the sun rising at 9am in winter. Also irregular because of this national standardization are the time differences between China and Pakistan (three hours), India (two-and-a-half hours), Nepal (two hours and 15 minutes), Bhutan (two hours), Myanmar (90 minutes), and the Russian Far East (two or three hours depending on which time zone you cross into or from).

On the flip side, there’s one border where traveling north or south puts you ahead or behind just 15 minutes. That would be the border between India (UTC +5.5) and Nepal (UTC +5.75). Both countries straddle the +5/+6 line, so it actually make perfect sense. Nepal is centered just a slight bit to the east, resulting in that extra 15 minutes. The only other time zones with a deviance on three quarters of an hour are New Zealand’s Chatham Islands, and the tiny Central Western Time Zone of Western Australia.

Speaking of Australia, the Northern Territory and South Australia choose to offset at UTC +9.5 instead of their proper UTC +9, which means travelers from Western Australia to the Northern Territory gain 90 minutes instead of an hour.

The biggest time deviant may be Russia, which has been on permanent daylight saving time since the Soviet Union introduced it in 1930. As a result, the clocks are always well ahead of the sun, sometimes more than two hours in places. The former Soviet republics of the Caucasus and Central Asia follow this lead, as does Mongolia. Adding to the deviance, in 2010, the Medvedev government abolished two entire time zones in an attempt to make the country easier to manage. All together, there are now three different areas where you gain two hours crossing time zones instead of just one. This also creates an unusual situation in the Kaliningrad Oblast exclave, which is now an hour ahead of Lithuania to its east, and two hours ahead of neighboring Poland. Moving from Eastern Europe or Turkey into Russia and the Caucasus also gains you two hours. And that small section of far northern Norway that borders Russia? Crossing that border into Russia gains you three hours at once! On the flip side, traveling east from Vladivostok to Japan, or south to North Korea, loses you two hours, and traveling into China gains you three hours there as well!

The Kaliningrad Oblast exclave is now an hour ahead of Lithuania to its east, and two hours ahead of neighboring Poland.

Not far behind Russia, in terms of great leaps of time, is perhaps an unlikely candidate: Greenland. This has much to do with the high latitude the island sits at, as time zones get narrower and narrower toward the poles. Because of Greenland’s low and widely dispersed population, most of the country simply defaults to the main time zone, UTC -3. Three outlier villages are too far away from UTC -3 to fit in properly, though, and get their own time zones. Qaanaaq on the west coast is in UTC -4, Ittoqqortoormiit on the east coast is in UTC -1, and the Danmarkshavn weather station in Northeast Greenland National Park is in UTC 0. This produces small areas of two and three-hour time changes on the island, plus a two-hour change between uninhabited northern Greenland and Canada’s Ellesmere Island.

Other non-IDL instances where you can move back in time despite traveling east:

  • Argentina is strangely set at UTC -3, despite straddling the UTC -4/-5 boundary (this also seems to have pushed Chile back to UTC -4 by effect, despite it being clearly in UTC -5). This causes you to travel back an hour when moving east into Paraguay.
  • There’s another anomaly in India , where because one single time zone is used for the entire country, the Seven Sister States of the northeast that were semi-isolated from the rest of India after partition sit 30 minutes behind Bhutan and Bangladesh, lying to their west.
  • Western Mongolia sits in UTC +7 just to the east of northern Xinjiang. Under official Chinese law (but not local Xinjiang custom), this is a one hour loss.
  • Prior to 1982, the two halves of Malaysia were in two separate time zones 30 minutes apart. Peninsular Malaysia moved their clocks ahead in 1982 to standardize the entire country at UTC +8, and Singapore followed suit for economic and logistical reasons. This essentially makes peninsular Malaysia and Singapore a UTC +8 island surrounded by UTC +7 Thailand and western Indonesia.

And, finally, the other non-IDL time zone boundaries where you can gain more than an hour when on standard time:

  • Despite lying in what should be UTC +2, Sudan placed itself in UTC +3, perhaps to align itself with the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. As a result, anyone entering Sudan (and now South Sudan) from the west via Chad and the Central African Republic gains two hours.
  • Iran and Pakistan each straddle standard time zones (UTC +3/+4 and UTC +4/+5, respectively). Iran opted for a half-hour compromise zone; Pakistan went with the standard offset. As a result, crossing the Iran/Pakistan border gains you 90 minutes, and moving west into Turkey sets you back 90 minutes.

This post originally appeared at Basement Geographer. We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com.