Friday, June 15, 2012

Panama: It's East and West of the Canal, Not North or South

There was once a commercial that mocked all the different types of coffee a coffeehouse forces customers to choose from.  Two of the choices listed are "Panama: north of the canal, south of the canal."

For some reason I thought of this commercial as I was going through an old atlas when I saw a map of Panama.  I wondered why and then it hit me: bad geography!

Many Americans have a poor mental map when it comes to the Americas.  Many think South America is right under North America when it fact South America is much further east (Pittsburgh in the eastern United States is almost exactly north of Quito, South America's most western capital city.

Because of this alignment Middle America is forced to stretch eastward as it extends south.

View Larger Map

This extent is to such an extreme that Panama does not run north to south but east to west.  Math proves this point and debunks the north/south myth.  Of the portion of Panama west of the canal, 15,000 square miles (39,000 square km) are south of the southern most point of the canal.  Only 7,000 square miles (18,000 square km) are south of the canal on the western half.  So if one is "south of the canal" they are more likely to be west of the canal, not east!

Note:  The Isthmus of Panama, where the canal runs through, is the thinnest point connecting the Americas and is therefore the physical geography border of North and South America.  Everything west of the canal is North America while everything east of the canal is South America.  Physical, Panama is in both continents.

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