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Experts, Rules, Areas, Watersheds, and Cultural Imperialism #1101
Back To Discussion List Written: 2004.01.22 by: David Wasserman

The February 2004 issue of National Geographic Adventure has published my letter to the editor in which I object to the October issue's reference to Triple Divide Peak in Montana as the only peak in North America that drains into three oceans, on the grounds that Hudson Bay is part of the Atlantic, not part of the Arctic Ocean. (This gives me the status of International Nitpicker, if you're keeping score.) If Hudson Bay is part of the Atlantic, Snow Dome in the Columbia Icefields is the only peak in North America that drains into three oceans.

The editors of Adventure responded with a note saying that although some hydrographers consider the Arctic Circle to define the Arctic Ocean, both National Resources Canada and the International Hydrographic Organization maintain that "any body of water that extends north of the 60th considered part of the Arctic Ocean." It seems to me that applying an arbitrary rule like that, based on an arbitrary line, rather than looking at how bodies of water are connected, leads to absurd results. In this case, by the 60th parallel rule, Moosonee, on James Bay, part of Hudson Bay, can claim to be on the shores of the Arctic Ocean. Moosonee is about as far north as Calgary.

A glance at a map will show that Ungava Strait, connecting Hudson Bay to the main body of the Atlantic, is far wider than the narrow little ice-choked straits connecting Hudson Bay to the main body of the Arctic Ocean. The natural links between Hudson Bay and the Atlantic are much more apparent than the links to the Arctic Ocean.

Using the latitude lines to define the identity of bodies of water is illogical. By the 60 degree rule, both the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean are part of the Arctic Ocean, since the North Atlantic extends north of 60, as does part of the Gulf of Alaska in the North Pacific. If we defined mountain ranges that way, range names would change in the middle of a ridge.

At any rate, I prefer to think that North America's hydrographic apex is in Canada, and that the Americans are using silly rules to steal the title.


#217 - 2004.01.22 David Campbell - Counting problems?
Nit-picking aside, if Columbia flows into three oceans, then Triple Peak cannot be the ONLY peak in North America that flows into three oceans (regardless of what you define those oceans to be). National Geographic Adventure is wrong on more than one account.