World Map

1:45 AM Amer Bekic 0 Comments

Many of you must have seen the World Map. So which map did you see? This one?

Umm, I am sorry to tell you but you have been misled. Look at the size of Greenland and Africa in the map. What did you see? They are roughly of the same size. But are they?
Now consider these facts:
Area of Greenland: 2,166,086 sq km
Area of Africa: 30,221,532 sq km
That means, Africa is roughly 14 times the size of Greenland! Now look at the map once again.

Some other misconceptions based on this map:

  • Alaska is nearly as large as the continental U.S.
  • Europe (excluding Russia) is only a bit larger than South America.
  • Antarctica dwarfs all the continents.
Oh God, this map is horrible! But then why we still use these map?
The map shown above is called Mercator projection. This map was developed in 1569 in Germany primarily for the purposes of accurate navigation during European colonial expansion. It produces serious visual distortions by altering the relative size of land masses, as we move away from equator. This has been intentional because staying true to size and shape is great if you are sitting in your study, looking at the world from afar. But if you’re trying to explore, an idealized map is next to useless. Those proper shapes and sizes come at the expense of angularity, which means a ship’s plotted course gets twisted unless it’s plotted directly east to west. If they used elliptical projections, navigators had to constantly recalculate their bearing.

To imagine how a Mercator projection works, picture shining a light through a translucent glass globe onto a piece of paper. Depending on where you put your light and how you use the paper, the globe’s features will cast a range of distorted shadows. Mercator rolled this imaginary piece of paper into a cylinder and wrapped it around his imaginary globe so that it touched only along the equator. Projecting implies a light source, and Mercator placed his hypothetical lamp opposite from where the paper touched, also on the equator. The shapes nearest the point of contact were close to perfect. The cylinder, however, was perpendicular to this point, and as the globe curved in from the paper, the lines of longitude stayed straight rather than meeting at the poles. The further they moved from the equator, the greater the distance between them became.

Hmm, all this is okay, but why don't we use the map which takes into account the actual size of the landmasses? Is it that bad for normal picture of world? Well, have a look at this.

This is called Gall–Peters projection. It was developed in 1973 in order to correct the distortions of the conventional map. This map represents the relative size or area of various continents and countries quite accurately, though it distorts their shape somewhat.
The Gall-Peters projection makes seeing the relative size of places much easier:

  • Greenland doesn't come close to Africa's size.
  • Alaska can fit inside the U.S. multiple times.
  • Europe appears much smaller than South America.
  • Antarctica looks like the second-smallest continent.
Notably, this version comes closer to showing that the Southern hemisphere at 38.6 million square miles is nearly twice as big as the Northern hemisphere at 18.9 million square miles. The Mercator, however, makes the Northern hemisphere look much larger. Therefore, Peters argued, the Mercator projection shows a euro-centric bias and harms the world's perception of developing countries.

Despite these benefits, the Gall-Peters projection has its flaws. It doesn't enlarge areas as much as the Mercator projection, but certain places appear stretched, horizontally near the poles and vertically near the Equator. 

Both the projections are seen as flawed and have fallen into disuse as more accurate maps have been developed. In classrooms now, you're are more likely to see the Robinson projection or the Winkel tripel projection. The Gall-Peters projections is still favored by some organizations, though many map publishers don't even produce it any more.

Robinson projection

Winkel tripel projection

Next time, while arguing with someone about relative sizes of countries and continents, do remember these facts.