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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The True Size of Africa: A Distorted Worldview

Africa is 11.68 million square miles or 30.22 million km2 and covers 20.4 percent of the total land area on Earth but on the Mercator projection map, Africa appears small in size, why is that? Mexico, China, Eastern and Western Europe, India, The USA and Japan can all fit into Africa's total land area very comfortably. 

The True Size of Africa: Immappancy Creates a Distorted Worldview
How big is Africa

The Mercator projection of 1569 was one of the first important navigation maps produced. The map was created by Gerard Mercator who was a Flemish mapmaker attempting to solve the problem of sailors navigate the world accurately. However, the accuracy of the Mercator projection is for traveling purposes and not an accurate visual representation of the world.  
The east-west and north-south lines are straight lines. Because the world is round, this makes for some not-so-accurate geographical representations. Antarctica and Greenland, in particular, look far larger on a Mercator projection than they are in real life. Alternative projections use an equal area projection that shows the countries' areas correctly while minimizing shape distortion. Some projections preserve the shapes of countries but misrepresent their areas as does the Mercator projection.

Why it is that today the Mercator projection is still such a widely recognized image used to represent the globe? The biggest challenge for mapmakers is that it is impossible to portray the reality of sphere-shaped world on a flat map. Mapmakers refer to the inability to compare size on a Mercator projection as "the Greenland Problem." Greenland appears to be the same size as Africa, yet Africa's land mass is actually fourteen times larger. Because the Mercator distorts size so much at the poles, it is common to crop Antarctica off the map. This practice results in the Northern Hemisphere appearing much larger than it actually is, the U.S. looks the same size as Africa but Africa is more than three times the size of the U.S.

Learning geography is vital

In October of 2010 at an exhibition in a London gallery by the Royal Geographic Society a German software computer-graphics engineer Mr. Kai Krause set out to show the world that "immappancy" or insufficient geographical knowledge is a major social issue. Krause was puzzled why the true size of Africa was a worldwide misjudgment. Krause partly blamed it on the distorted nature of mapping estimates using the Mercator projection. Krause point is you should know the map Mercator projection limits your view of what you see and learning geography plays an important role in the evolution of people, ideas and development.

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