The Mercator projection

3 02 2015

Maps. I love them. Capital LOVE.

You may already know that the way the world is usually portrayed uses the Mercator projection – a particular formula for essentially representing the surface of a sphere in only two dimensions. Well, it’s incredibly misleading.

This is the best way of describing what the projection intends to do (in reality it’s a bit more complex):

from Kids Britannica; click on image for original source

from Kids Britannica; click on image for original source

You can see that it’s inevitable that the land masses are terribly distorted; the closer to the poles the more the distortion (into infinity for the poles themselves). The below image shows the level of distortion (each red circle should be the same actual size):

click on image for original source

click on image for original source (Maps Mania)

So the picture we have of the world, the proportions of the countries to each other, is all wrong (eg. Iceland is nowhere near the same size as Africa).

There are various projection formulas to choose from … it’s all incredibly maths-heavy and it can make your head spin.

Want to see how influential the chosen projection method is? Say, instead of choosing the equator as the arbitrary line of least distortion, a line through the poles was chosen … (according to the comment stream on the original source, it uses an equirectangular not Mercator projection – yeah, I was totally about to say that).

click on image for original source

click on image for source

Or this (according to the source using Hotine Oblique Mercator Projection, uh huh):

click on image for original source

click on image for original source

Isn’t that AMAZING.

For more map fun check out this post, where the author uses the Mercator projection with different central points.

I’m left questioning what the world really looks like!

If we had a better handle on the relative size of our home planet’s geography, would it change how we see ourselves in it, how we see others?

ps. new favourite map blog is Maps Mania


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