Turns out the Earth actually is flat. Those YouTube accounts with suspiciously large followings might just be right after all.
Sorry, jokes aside. It turns out that the world map that most of us grew up observing, though, might not be true either. The world is not quite the way it was set out in the maps of old. Most of the maps that we see come from the Mercator projection. However, at a good bit over 450 years old, the map obviously has some limitations.
The Mercator projection is a cylindrical map projection on a flat surface, presented by the Flemish geographer and cartographer Gerardus Mercator in 1569. The projection on a flat surface creates a distorted image of land masses and countries.
Instead, Google Maps has decided to stop using the old metric and start creating its own projection instead. Since it poorly maps out the size of countries properly, the Mercator projection often poorly projects the size of some locations. For example, climate scientist Neil formed a new map visualization which is a closer medium between the Mercator projection and other accepted projections.
Want to see just how odd this project can be at times? Take a look at this GIF – it shows you in perfect detail why this might not be the best way to estimate the size of nations.
Animating the Mercator projection to the true size of each country in relation to all the others.
— Neil Kaye (@neilrkaye) October 12, 2018
Indeed, limitations like showing Greenland to be larger than the whole of Africa is a joke. At fourteen times the size of Greenland, it’s these limitations that make the Mercator projection more than a little wobbly all these years on. While once a very powerful and useful, today it’s possible that we can do even more.
Why the need for a change?
Well, the Mercator projection came to be in 1569, when Gerardus Mercator put it together. The famous Finnish cartographer was a major name in his time, and he was seen as the creator of a tool which made navigation much easier. By being able to plot a straight-line course whilst maintaining the true shape of country, it was very useful for the time.
It’s astonishing to me (though not having given it much thought frankly), that we are still designing new global map projections. Robinson (from 1974) is my current standard (also for @IPCC_CH), but this new Equal Earth projection from @BojanSavric is a contender: pic.twitter.com/73kphQYDJZ
— Gavin Schmidt (@ClimateOfGavin) August 10, 2018
However, convert the Mercator projection into a 3D globe, and it does not really work. Unless the flat Earth people are correct, it’s likely that this rule very much needed an update. Others claim that the Mercator projection needs to go as it presents a very European-sympathetic view of the world – to the point where some schools got rid of it and replaced it with the alternative maps made by Gall-Peters.
The 2018 release of the Equal Earth projection map is supposed to be the catch-all solution to bring an end to these constant arguments. However, we are sure that cartographers will continue to vociferously debate the pros and cons of each choice.
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