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Hopefully this isn't so far afield as to get banned - apologies in advance to those who think it doesn't belong.

This article discusses a region of Antarctica which is described as "West Antarctica". However, Antarctica is a roughly circular mass centered on the South Pole. Hence any boundary region is north of the center of mass. I suspect there's a convention for naming a region with a compass direction, perhaps relating to the prime meridian or some such, but I can't find information on this. It's just a matter of curiosity, but I would like to know how the region in question comes to be "west".

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    Along the coast there is no question concerning where west or east are. In fact, the only problematic point is the south pole itself. Are you perhaps asking not about the directions but about the convention for designating a portion as the "western" and another portion as the "eastern"? – whuber Feb 8 '13 at 21:22
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    Yes, that's exactly my question - why is this region "West Antarctica" (which is the actual nomenclature, not "western".) – Llaves Feb 8 '13 at 21:35
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Have you looked at a globe lately? :)

Map of Antarctica

The prime meridian divides the earth into the western and eastern hemispheres. "West Antarctica" is in the western hemisphere, hence the name.

  • While I suspect your answer is probably correct, this would fail to explain why the eastern United States is in the western hemisphere or the southern US is in the northern hemisphere. In most cases the apparent logic behind assigning directional names to portions of a landmass is that the region bears the given directional relationship to the rest of the landmass, which doesn't hold for West Antarctica. By the hemispheric naming convention, can we then conclude that all of Antarctica is "South Antarctica"? :-) – Llaves Feb 8 '13 at 21:40
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    My only response to that is that you may be overthinking it a bit :) – blah238 Feb 8 '13 at 22:34
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    Actually, the part of Antarctica along its coast is unambiguously North Antarctica. – whuber Feb 8 '13 at 22:47
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    And for trivia buffs, the northernmost point is called Prime Head, at the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. The southernmost point is of course, the South Pole. – blah238 Feb 8 '13 at 23:39
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    That map strongly suggests that the Transantarctic Mountain range divides West Antarctica from East Antarctica, more than the prime meridian does. – Russell Borogove Feb 9 '13 at 1:45
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In a book, the author wrote that there has been a grid established arbitrarily assigning map directions to Antarctica, as though the South Pole was actually on the equator. Instead of magnetic compasses, they use GPS to determine location and direction. It didn't tell how the grid is oriented, I assumed the prime meridian was east, 90 degrees was north, etc, but looking at a map showing 90 degrees west and 90 degrees east, maybe that determines what is east and west.

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