Chic African Culture Africa Factbook

True Size of Africa Not The Distorted Mercator Projection

Africa is 11.68 million square miles or 30.22 million km2 and covers 20.4 percent of the total land area on Earth.

Africa appears small in size on the map; why is that? Mexico, China, Eastern and Western Europe, India, The USA, and Japan can all comfortably fit into Africa's total land area. In reality, Africa is much larger than it appears on the typical Mercator projection maps. 

Alternative map projections have been developed to address this issue, such as the Peters projection, which aims to provide a more accurate representation of land area sizes. These alternative projections attempt to minimize the distortions and present a more geographically faithful depiction of the Earth's land masses.

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 navigating 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 correctly shows the countries' areas while minimizing shape distortion. Some projections preserve the shapes of countries but misrepresent their areas, as does the Mercator projection.

Why is it 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 a sphere-shaped world on a flat map. Peters projection, Robinson projection, or Winkel Tripel projection, have gained popularity, especially when accuracy in area representation is crucial or when emphasizing global equality in spatial representation is desired.

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.

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.

The Mercator projection significantly exaggerates the sizes of land areas as they move toward the poles. Since Africa is located closer to the equator, it suffers from significant distortion in this projection, making it appear smaller compared to regions that are depicted closer to the poles, such as North America and Europe.

This image of Earth’s city lights was created with data from the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program
NASA Earth's Light

Did you know? The Mercator projection of 1569 was one of the first navigation maps produced; the Mercator projection is for traveling purposes and is not an accurate visual representation of Africa. The Mercator projection was not developed to accurately show the true size of Africa, but projections from the Mercator projection are still in use today.


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