Latitudes and Currents
A snowy winter in Maine (2008 – definitely not 2010)
|Recently, Nell at Secrets of a Seed Scatterer wrote about latitudes and how they shape our gardening experiences, and she asked us all if we knew the latitudes of our gardens.|
My garden in East Poland, Maine is at latitude 44N, which means that I am just a bit closer to the equator than to the north pole. In the United States, the 44th parallel passes through the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the Adirondack Mountains of New York, the Black Hills of South Dakota, and the southern edge of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. This latitude also includes Middlebury, Vermont; Oshkosh, Wisconsin; Rochester, Minnesota and Eugene, Oregon. My position at latitude 44N puts me north of Toronto but south of Montreal, north of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia but south of Halifax.
Moving outside North America, the 44th parallel runs just north of the French Riviera and through northern Tuscany, Bucharest, Belgrade, Alma Ata, and the far north of Japan. Latitude 44 is a little south of Venice, Milan and Lyon, which are all at latitude 45N. It is considerably south of Paris, Munich and Vienna, and even further south of Krakow, Prague, Frankfort, Brussels, and anyplace in the UK.
The relative latitudes of places in New England and Europe often surprise people. Mainers find it hard to believe that so much of Europe is further north than we are, and Europeans are surprised by our harsh winters. Recently, Edith of Edith Hope’s Garden Journal expressed just this sentiment in a comment on my blog. “What amazes me,” she wrote, “even though I am used to the cold and snowy winters of Hungary, is the amount of snow combined with sub zero temperatures that you experience.” London gardener Roger Phillips expressed the same amazement in the correspondence with Maine gardener Leslie Land later published as The Three Thousand Mile Garden (Penguin Books, 1997). In December 1989, the first winter of their correspondence, Phillips wrote:
I am horrified at the temperatures in Cushing. It at last brings home to me why gardens in America are so different from ours…. The other thing I cannot get through my thick head is that you are over five hundred miles south of me – by my map you come out on the same latitude as the French Rivieras, and to boot you are near the sea. How can it be so cold? (The Three Thousand Mile Garden, p. 37)
The question was rhetorical. The answer, as Roger Phillips well knew, lay in the powerful influence on climate of ocean currents. New England owes it’s cold climate to the Labrador Current, which flows south from the Arctic Ocean, past Greenland, Labrador, and the Canadian Maritimes, and along the coasts of Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, the Gulf Stream flows north from the Gulf of Mexico, bringing warm water to temper the climate of western Europe and the UK.
You can learn more about these and other ocean currents that influence climate by clicking here. It should give us all pause that some models of global warming predict the disruption of these ocean currents, with resulting dramatic changes to our climates and our gardens.