They Get Around | Is The Mercator World Map Incorrect? Reshaping How You See The World
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May 01 2017

Is The Mercator World Map Incorrect? Reshaping How You See The World

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Is The Mercator World Map Incorrect? Reshaping How You See The World: When ever you think of a world map chances are that it’ll be the Mercator Projection. But is everything with it all that it seems? Surprisingly there have been movements to change the map to other more representative maps. Proponents of the Mercator Projection claim that it is Western focused, and possibly even racist. Read on as we’ll shed some light on the subject, as you may be able to see the world just a little differently afterwards.
 

| Is The Mercator World Map Incorrect? |

| Reshaping How You See The World |

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The Basics

The world is a sphere. We’ve long passed the debate whether it’s flat or not, but since the Earth is round this makes transposing an image of the Earth onto a flat piece of paper a little difficult. The difficulty stems from the fact that land masses tend to be distorted either in shape or mass. Cartographers are essentially trying to fit a 3D object onto a 2D plane.

 
 

Additionally when the first maps were created, while they were created to give others a greater sense of the world, they were also created to help navigation. By enlarging areas, or placing certain landmasses in certain spots, it makes it easier for navigators to negotiate crossing oceans and finding their way.
 
 

The Current Map – The Mercator


 

The Mercator Projection was created in 1569 by a German cartographer. The map was adopted rather quickly for nautical purposes, due to it being able represent lines of constant course (rhumb lines) as straight lines which cut all meridians at the same angle. This made the Mercator Map perfect for navigation.

 

However the trade off for creating parallels and meridians as straight lines is that the The Mercator Projection enlarges and misrepresents land masses further away from the equator. The Mercator Projection comes under fire for several key reasons, with the main being the disparity of size and the unfair representation of certain key areas.

 
When the map was created, many believed that Europe was of most importance culturally to the rest of the world. As thus, certain countries and regions were shown to be larger than what they really are. The main reason for this is the line of thinking that if something is larger than it represents more importance, so European countries were shown to be larger on the Mercator Projection.
 
 

Using the Mercator Projection these countries are similar or larger in size.

  • Greenland, Africa, and China
  • Alaska (US State), Mexico and Brazil
  • Scandinavia is larger than India

 

In actual fact these areas are not the same, especially the most famous example of Greenland and Africa. On a Mercator Projection both countries look to be of equal size, however this is not the case. Africa is 11.67 million miĀ² (30.22 million kmĀ²) large, while Greenland is only 836,300 miĀ² (2.166 million kmĀ²). That makes Greenland only 1/14th of the size of Africa. Though when looking at a Mercator Projection you’re given the impression that both countries are equal in size.
 
The same is true for the example of Alaska and Mexico. Alaska registers at 663,300 miĀ² (1.718 million kmĀ²) and looks quite intimidating, as it seems to be around 1/3rd the size of continental US, and much larger in size than Mexico. However in actuality, Mexico is slightly larger than Alaska at 761,600 miĀ² (1.973 million kmĀ²).

 

The trend continues with another region closer to the poles being exaggerated in size, this time Scandinavia. Scandinavia seems to dwarf India, however the Nordic countries are considerably smaller than India. The Scandinavia region is only being 358,325 miĀ² (928,057 kmĀ²) compared to India’s mammoth 1.269 million miĀ² (3.287 million kmĀ²). Though looking at the Mercator Projection you would never have guessed that was case.
 
 
 

Gall-Peters Projection

Gall Peters Projection, Gall-Peters Map, World Map, Gall-Peters
 
An alternative to the Mercator Projection is the Gall-Peters Projection. Though just like the Mercator, the Gall-Peters is not without error. However what the Gall-Peters Projection does extremely well is provide proper size of area to countries. This means that the Greenland vs Africa facet has been addressed, with Greenland showing a much smaller size on this projection, while other distorted areas have been corrected.
 
The other area that the Gall-Peters map attempts to address is the disparity between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. As in the Mercator Projection it gives the impression that the Northern Hemisphere is of equal, or greater size than the Southern. Once again this isn’t correct as the Northern Hemisphere is only 18.9 million miĀ², while the Southern Hemisphere is a gigantuous 38.6 million miĀ².

 

The problem with the Gall-Peters Projection is that while it does provide a more accurate depiction of size to area, the projection vertically elongates countries.
 
 

Winkel Tripel Projection

World map
Credit: Martyn Wright
 

A compromise between the Mercator’s strengths of navigation and the Gall-Peters truer depiction of land mass is the Winkel Tripel Projection. The Winkel Tripel Projection is now the map which is currently being used by the National Geographic Society. The Winkel Tripel Projection was created in 1921 as a method to reduce three factors for distortion; area, direction and distance.

 

While the Winkel Tripel Projection is considered incredibly good, it still isn’t perfect. This is due to the transposing of a 3D object issue. Even with the minor errors, the Winkel Tripel Projection keeps the skews of distortion to a minimum, and is certainly a lot better than the Mercator to give an accurate depiction to the size of a nation.

 
 

Conclusion


 
 
While the Winkel Tripe Projection isn’t perfect, it is the closest. The fact of the matter is that it’s almost impossible to be able to directly transpose a spherical object onto a flat 2D plane without some sort of level of distortion. By understanding the maps which we use, it’ll allow you to understand more about the world around you at the same time.

 

Is The Mercator World Map Incorrect? Reshaping How You See The World

Is The Mercator World Map Incorrect? Reshaping How You See The World

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