Thursday, 10 February 2011

Where have I been living all these years ?

A dumb question but bear with me. Do you know where you live ? I mean do you really know the planet earth and it's true geography ?

We are all familiar with the following map which is what was used during my schooldays. In fact, this particular map projection is the one most often featured in classrooms the world over, in boardrooms etc. This is how we've been taught to look at the world and for a reason.

Mercator Projection
This map is what's called a Mercator Projection. The Mercator projection is a cylindrical map projection presented by the Belgian, Flemish geographer and cartographer Gerardus Mercator, in 1569. Mercator's projection (created at a time when navigators were sailing on the oceans in wooden ships, powered by the wind, and navigating by the stars) was particularly useful because straight lines on his projection were lines of constant compass bearing. Today the Mercator projection still remains useful for navigational purposes and is referred to by seafarers and airline pilots.

The Mercator is also a "conformal" map projection. This means that it shows shapes pretty much the way they appear on the globe. The mapmaker's dilemma is that you cannot show both shape and size accurately. If you want a true shape for the land masses you will necessarily sacrifice proportionality, i.e., the relative sizes will be distorted.

Take a look at the approximate size of Africa, Madagascar, Europe etc. They're all right where you expected to see them and in roughly the sizes that you've been taught to expect. Ready to blow your mind ?

Peters Projection
Above is the Peters Projection Map which is an Area Accurate Map. That is to say that it shows the true size of the continents, countries and seas/oceans. Go ahead, click on it now to blow your mind. This is the real world as it exists, not what you and I have been taught over the years.

Which is bigger, Greenland or China? With the traditional Mercator map, Greenland and China look the same size. But in reality China is almost 4 times larger! In response to such discrepancies, Dr. Arno Peters created a new world map that dramatically improves the accuracy of how we see the Earth.

Take a look at the difference in the size of North America vs. Europe, or Africa. To put it another way, have a look at the following. It freaked me out when I saw it and it got me thinking.

Some would argue that the Mercator Projection was adopted so readily by the early European empires because it reinforced a Euro-Centric view of the earth. Europe was "larger than life" and placed at the center of the map. Whether this is true or not remains in question but one thing is for sure. Since it's introduction in the mid 1500's, the Mercator view, out of the thousands of other projections, has become the most widely used and is recognizable by schoolchildren the world over.

The Peter's Projection on the other hand has been slow to be adopted. It is used in many NGO's, Multi-National companies and governments but has met with general public resistance, particularly in the USA.

Go figure.


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