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Mapping Distortions

October 16, 2010

Greg Osuri created this visual representation of the relative size of Africa (seen first on Boing Boing).

The purpose is to show the vastness of this incredible continent.  I’d seen a similar map previously on Dark Roasted Blend and went looking for it there (it has since vanished?) and then elsewhere in the google-verse, simultaneously getting drawn into reading the rather enlightening (about the unlightened) responses in the comments on Big Think (which devolve into repetition and slander, as they do).  From “Where is Alaska and Hawaii?  You left them out!  America is bigger than that!!” to “No, I think their landmasses were taken into account, anyway if not, you could probably puzzle them into the gaps and besides you’re missing the point.” to “What a waste of land.” (WTF?!) to “I always thought America was bigger than Africa!  Thanks for teaching me otherwise.”  (I’ll spare you the rest – it’s all rather messy who’s bigger and better and smarter stuff.)

An alternate map, “Africa in Perspective” – source:  The Times Atlas.  ~  And an interactive Africa Map from One World – Nations Online.

This all got me thinking (together with the continuing map search on the other hand) about how the old, accepted  Mercator projection map of the world skewed the relative sizes of the landmasses and consequently perceptions of the world.

Look familiar?

Mercator World Map Projection 1959


  • Greenland takes as much area on the map as Africa, when in fact Africa’s area is approximately 14 times greater than Greenland.
  • Alaska takes as much area on the map as Brazil, when Brazil’s area is actually more than 5 times that of Alaska.
  • Finland appears with a greater north-south extent than India, although India’s is greater.
  • Antartica appears as the biggest continent, although it is actually the 5th in terms of area.

The distortion comes about, obviously, from the problem of projecting a globe (a round 3-dimensional object) onto a flat surface.  Africa looks relatively little because, in the equatorial middle, it is least stretched out, everything else inflated around it, more so toward the polar regions, with the most evident distortion in the northern landmasses and Antartica.

Inflated landmasses and swelling pride…  who remembers the geography scene and the map of Siam in The King & I? 🙂

(You can read more about map projections here.)

Information Visualisation is of particular interest to me and for this reason and because it excites me to see things in new and alternate ways, I went searching for alternate projections and visual representations of our world.

Size Matters

Peters Projection:  an Area Accurate Map.

Hobo-Dyer Equal Area Projection Map.

Equally Important

PolyView Earth

This is a map of the entire world where all geographic locations are treated with equal importance.

It shows land cover, bathymetry, international borders and a 15° latitude/longitude grid. Scale distortion is minimal and evenly distributed. It does not have a center, a top or a bottom. There is no side up so it can be viewed from any orientation.

An Oblique View

Oblique Mercator Projection.

via Newport Geographic.

Water Water Everywhere

Waterman Projection system.

via Common Sense Killer.

A Fuller Projection

Buckminster Fuller (Dymaxion Map) Projection.

Isn’t our world, planet Earth just wonderful? 🙂

Peeling the Earth

both above via Black Maps: Science + Politics + comics + Maps.

Which way is Up?

This alternate view is a pretty obvious idea but worth the flipping of perceptions, causing the viewer to look again at the overly familiar, now unfamiliar shapes; also for the way it turns perceptions of a dominant north on it’s head.  Of course there is no top and bottom to the Earth (just in and out) – so it’s a pity that the Hema Maps version is labelled “Upside Down World Map”.  From ODT Maps:  “What’s up? South!” and MacArthur’s Universal Corrective Map of the World” because

there is no intrinsic reason to put the Southern Hemisphere at the bottom. Nor is there a universal mandate that requires the “Prime Meridian” to pass through Greenwich, England.

And now, I really need to stop, because, as you might know, I have a tendancy to take things too far. 😉

Obviously there are many ways of perceiving anything.  Give it a try!  Look for alternatives. 🙂

Make Your Own World!

The world in your hand – so big and yet so small, so incredibly amazing and fragile all at the same time.

via Cartophilia.

Update:  Now I find the “Africa in Perspective” map!  After finding it eslewhere.  So check out, also, their Unusual and Marvelous Maps.

The wonder & prettiness is never-ending.  Ok, now I’m going to drink a beer.  Enjoy the Earth.  Love, me.

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