Shrinking inaccuracies down to size

Spending time in a region of the globe at a considerable distance from my ordinary home (roughly 5,050 miles, or 8,130 kilometers away) has me thinking about maps, and I’ve found some that should interest you.

Beginning with a sphere like our earth, trying to represent its geographical information on the flat surface of a map is going to be complicated. Different map projections have different goals in mind, and are willing to tolerate various inaccuracies in order to achieve them.

The Mercator projection dates back to 1569, and its utility in ship navigation played a big part in its popularity. Though very few of us spend any time in ocean-going vessels these days, that doesn’t seem to affect Mercator’s world map dominance. For those of us in North America and Western Europe, it’s probably the map we grew up with.

One of the Mercator projection’s chief inaccuracies is nicely illustrated by this image:

In essence, any light blue area on the map represents an inaccurate inflation of the territory, which is striking to me.

The map maker, Neil Kaye, also shows this in a nice animation, which you can find here.

Now that we’ve got a sense for the problem, we’re interested in finding a solution. Today I ran across a new entry in the field of maps-not-as-bad-as-Mercator, from the Equal Earth Map Project. A couple of years ago, the Boston school system decided they wanted more accurate, less biased maps in their classrooms, and determined to replace their Mercator maps with Gall-Peters projection maps.*

This news made a big splash in the cartography world, and got a group of map makers worked up enough that they decided it was time to design their own improved map, and to make it available for free. It uses an equal-area pseudocylindrical projection of this type:

Here’s a snapshot of one region on the map:


You may not have lost much sleep over map inaccuracies in the past, but if you want to give a new version a try, you can find the downloadable files here, along with printing instructions.

I recently revisited my first map post, and you can find other map posts here, here, and for a bit of whimsy, here.


*I don’t know either Gall or Peters, but their map has engendered some strong feelings, one example of which we find in a cartoon by xkcd called, “What your favorite map projection says about you.”

[Images: Neil Kaye, x 2]

2 thoughts on “Shrinking inaccuracies down to size

  1. I actually do lose a lot of sleep over map inaccuracies, though maybe in a good way. I really like the Mercator with the true-size dark blue insets. Probably everyone knows that Greenland tends to get out of control, but Russia has some serious issues too, and even Sweden. Very nice visual.

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