The True Size of Africa Continued: The Mercator Wars

mercator projection distortion image greenland

Image Credit: Data Pointed

After the poster that was the subject of Mike's popular The True Size and Importance of Africa post was published, it sparked a lot of interest in the distortion caused by the Mercator projection. Many in India and Africa consider it to be a Eurocentric, imperialist relic, since it overemphasizes land masses further from the equator.

At Data Pointed, Stephen Von Worley has demonstrated some interesting relationships. Here is how Mercator shows Greenland and Africa, even though Africa is 14 times the size of Greenland.

mercator projection distortion image world

This surprised me, until I confirmed it by looking at this Mercator map of the world and it is true, Greenland does look as big as Africa.

mercator projection distortion image switch

Then he showed what happens if you move Greenland to the equator and Africa to the Arctic. Things look very different.

mercator projection distortion image alaska

Then he switched Alaska and Texas, and who knows, maybe Sarah Palin could see Russia from her porch, because Alaska is a lot smaller that we thought it was.

More at Datapointed, Via F**k Yeah, Cartography

mercator projection distortion image sinusoid


If you want to get it right, you have to use a sinusoidal projection, where longitude lines converge at the poles. Suddenly Africa is up front and center, and you can barely find Alaska.

mercator projection distortion image polar

No doubt a lot of Americans will read a political story into the Azimuthal equidistant projection used by the United Nations in their symbol and flag, where the United States looks positively puny compared to South America and Africa. North America is still on top, but seriously cut down to size.


Buckminster Fuller also looked at the problem, and proposed the Dymaxion projection, noting that in fact North is not up, that there is no up or down to a sphere spinning in space.

After all, putting the north at the top is just another convention that puts Europe "above" Africa.

More on Maps:

22 Most Amazing Maps Changing How We See The World
The True Size and Importance of Africa (Map)
The World's Most Impressive Subway Maps
The World's Best Alternative Subway Maps
Why Making Maps Guides Us to Be Greener

Related Content on