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For my Alternate history story, I want a new ethnic group with their own landmass. Said landmass is a perfectly circular island the size of Egypt (area of 1 million square kilometers). This island landmass will have a tall mountain range in the center and the rest will be grassy plains.

Given this criteria, what location on Earth will provide a climate for the island very conducive to arable land? Clearly the poles are the wrong answer. That said, I'm not sure the equator is a good answer either. The island will be a million years old if it matters.

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    $\begingroup$ What is the technology level of the people involved in farming? $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Dec 12, 2023 at 20:10
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    $\begingroup$ If the natural state of most of the land on an island is grassland, there must be something wrong either with the soil (too poor), or with the rain (too little), or with the temperature (too cold). $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Dec 12, 2023 at 21:59
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    $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch, the ideal farming territory would be great for any level of civilization. It's not like the invention of the tractor has turned Saudi Arabia into a breadabasket or turned Bangladesh into a food importer. $\endgroup$
    – Rhymehouse
    Dec 13, 2023 at 2:21
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    $\begingroup$ Note that if you want to have an isolated island, the question which crops they have access to gets really important. Before 1500 the Americas were able to produce significantly less food than comparable climates in Asia/Europe because they didn't have access to rice/wheat/rye. $\endgroup$
    – quarague
    Dec 13, 2023 at 8:15
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    $\begingroup$ It's worth noting that different locations may be good for very different types of cultures, and it's not just a matter of latitude, but also of proximity to the sea, seasonal patterns, terrain, soil... You don't quite grow bananas or pineapples in the same places you would grow wheat... $\endgroup$
    – jcaron
    Dec 13, 2023 at 16:27

4 Answers 4

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-37,-125

Dead center of the South Pacific, within the temperate zone. You'd get more arable land if you put your mountain range on the NW edge, but this is where you'd want your island country to be. Additionally, the rest of the world might not even notice it until the 1600's.

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  • $\begingroup$ Yes, any mountain range will create a rain shadow. Which ever place OP picks in the end, to maximize the arable land, the most of the "flat" parts should be on the side where wet winds blows from. $\endgroup$ Dec 13, 2023 at 6:23
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    $\begingroup$ I looked up the prevailing winds in the area, and they tend to come from ESE. Thus, putting the mountains on the NW edge would turn the island into a watershed on the scale of the Mississippi river basin. Unfortunately, this would make the entire island off balance, and would have unpredictable effects if the island were turning on the backs of elephants. $\endgroup$ Dec 13, 2023 at 18:12
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    $\begingroup$ "the rest of the world" meaning people on the eurasian and american continents. The polynesians would have noticed well before 1600. Maybe that fits OP's "ethnic group"? $\endgroup$
    – craq
    Dec 13, 2023 at 22:49
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    $\begingroup$ @PaulSinclair, Why "examine closely" when your first act is to throw it all out the window? We're talking about putting a million square kilometers of extra land in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Do you really think that this question warrants a supercomputer simulation? $\endgroup$ Dec 14, 2023 at 21:50
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    $\begingroup$ "China and Japan knew that New Zealand existed" do you have a source for that? My understanding was that while polynesians sailed back and forth between the islands in the main group, NZ was quite isolated, so that most of polynesia may not have been aware it existed. I was also not aware of polynesian knowledge of the islands making its way back to China and Japan. I'd be interested in reading up on it more if there's something I've missed or misunderstood. $\endgroup$
    – craq
    Dec 15, 2023 at 1:21
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Between 30th and 45th parallel.

Theses lattitudes gives you what we sometimes call a Mediterranean climate and around-a-year growing season. Closer to the equator will give you first dry zone and then wet tropical zone. Former running the risk of insufficient rainfall, the latter having the growing season interrupted by heavy rainfall.

Go pole-vise and you start seeing the growing season interrupted by regular cold winters.

Put your island few miles north-west from Madeira (32°39′4″N 16°54′35″W) and the Gulf current will keep your climate cozy and stable.

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Certain countries have far more arable land than others. There are multiple reasons for this, but geographical location makes a huge difference. There are good reasons that Greenland is generally inhospitable while China has 1.4 billion people.

This map here displays the percentage of arable land by country:

Farming Land Ratio

The places with the best farmland seem to be Europe, Caribbean, South Asia, and West Africa. I know India and Bangladesh are very fertile thanks to mountain rivers, but overall placing your island next to a country with lots of arable land will generally lead to your new landmass also having the right climate and other attributes to have lots of cultivated land. An Egypt-sized island can't really fit in Europe, but a large island just south of India (Delhi is 28.7041° N, 77.1025° E ) or west of Nigeria ( Lagos is 6.5244° N, 3.3792° E ) would be good locations for your island.

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    $\begingroup$ Nice map! What’s the source? I’d love to see whether one exists (or could be made) with a finer breakdown for large countries. $\endgroup$ Dec 13, 2023 at 5:40
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    $\begingroup$ This map would be a lot more useful broken down into smaller regions, it's a bit pointless for these purposes using political boundaries $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Dec 13, 2023 at 13:20
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    $\begingroup$ This map is utterly and completely useless. The climatic and soil conditions prevalent in the beatifully purple Ukraine do not stop abruptly at the boundary between the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and the Russian Soviet Socialist Federative Republic. In fact, they continue north-eastwards over an area about as large as Ukraine! And the same can be said about the boundary between blue Germany and purple Poland; remember that the boundary was only placed in its current position by the Americans and the Russians in 1945. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Dec 13, 2023 at 17:19
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    $\begingroup$ I think that this map represents the area that each country dedicates to row crop production. Brazil, for example, is shown as only 5-9% while the country dedicates almost half of its land mass to agriculture in general. If you remove the geopolitical factors, the real crop land potential of the country is even higher. $\endgroup$ Dec 13, 2023 at 23:15
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    $\begingroup$ And (@AlexP) Canada shows the opposite problem - one colour on that map but the south is a major wheat-growing area, while the north has large barren and inhospitable areas $\endgroup$
    – Chris H
    Dec 14, 2023 at 13:41
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Anything around the same lattitude as England/Europe or New Zealand.

You get the best of both worlds - enough rain that you rarely worry about drought, enough summer that the crops grow pretty regularly.

Add on top of that either some Volcanic soil with flat-ish fields or at least rolling hills - and you are onto a winner.

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    $\begingroup$ England has always been a net importer of food. Not exactly an agricultural paradise. Even with modern technology, most of the land in England is at best suitable for pasture. With real numbers, about 70% of the land area of England is usable for agriculture in any way, and of this about 60% is only usable as pasture. Only about 12% of the land area of England is used for arable agriculture. See the nice publication of the UK Department for Food. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Dec 12, 2023 at 21:57
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    $\begingroup$ Note that parts of Western Europe get the benefit of the Gulf Stream which warms the climate compared to what you would normally have at those latitudes. Remember that France is at the same latitudes as the Canadian provinces, probably not the best example of an ideal climate for agriculture. New Zealand is quite a bit closer to the Equator, about the same as Spain rather than England, and I'm not sure its arable agriculture is very developed compared to other countries. $\endgroup$
    – jcaron
    Dec 13, 2023 at 10:51
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    $\begingroup$ At the same latitude as England, on Hudson Bay, they have substantial issues with polar bears. The Gulf Stream does all the work to keep England warm (as @jcaron notes) $\endgroup$
    – Mary
    Dec 13, 2023 at 13:15
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    $\begingroup$ @jcaron: Romania and Ukraine are about at the same latitude as France, with no Gulf Stream whatsoever, and I can assure you that wheat grows very well. Ukraine was a major wheat exporter before the current trouble with the Russian Empire. (And anyway, whatever influence the Gulf Stream might have on the western coast of France, it definitely does not extend over all the country. Moreover, as far as I know, the western coast of France does not have a particularly warm and balmy climae, not at all.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Dec 13, 2023 at 13:35
  • $\begingroup$ Grew. "grew pretty regularly" .Its in the past now. $\endgroup$
    – Pica
    Dec 14, 2023 at 12:14

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