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Mapped: Visualizing the True Size of Africa

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The True Size of Africa Map

Mapped: The True Size of Africa

Take a look at any map, and it’s clear that the African continent is a big place.

However, despite the common perception that Africa is a large landmass, it’s still one that is vastly underestimated by most casual map viewers.

The reason for this is that the familiar Mercator map projection tends to distort our geographical view of the world in a crucial way — one that often leads to misconceptions about the relative sizes of both countries and continents.

A Geographical Jigsaw

Today’s infographic comes from Kai Krause and it shows the true size of Africa, as revealed by the borders of the countries that can fit within the continent’s shape.

The African continent has a land area of 30.37 million sq km (11.7 million sq mi) — enough to fit in the U.S., China, India, Japan, Mexico, and many European nations, combined.

CountryLand Area (sq. km)Land Area (sq. mi)% of Africa
🇺🇸 United States9.83 million3.80 million32.4%
🇨🇳 China9.60 million3.71 million31.6%
🇮🇳 India3.29 million1.27 million10.8%
🇲🇽 Mexico1.96 million0.76 million6.5%
🇵🇪 Peru1.29 million0.50 million4.2%
🇫🇷 France0.64 million0.25 million2.1%
🇪🇸 Spain0.51 million0.20 million1.7%
🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea0.46 million0.18 million1.5%
🇸🇪 Sweden0.45 million0.17 million1.5%
🇯🇵 Japan0.38 million0.15 million1.3%
🇩🇪 Germany0.36 million0.14 million1.2%
🇳🇴 Norway0.32 million0.13 million1.1%
🇮🇹 Italy0.30 million0.12 million1.0%
🇳🇿 New Zealand0.27 million0.10 million0.9%
🇬🇧 United Kingdom0.24 million0.09 million0.8%
🇳🇵 Nepal0.15 million0.06 million0.5%
🇧🇩 Bangladesh0.15 million0.06 million0.5%
🇬🇷 Greece0.13 million0.05 million0.4%
Total30.33 million sq. km11.71 million sq. mi99.9%

You could add together all of the landmasses above and they would not equate to the geographical footprint of Africa, which itself is home to 54 countries and 1.2 billion people.

Editor’s note: The above table is slightly different from the countries shown in the visualization, which focuses more on fitting recognizable country shapes into the geographical shape of Africa.

Why the Misconception?

Interestingly, the problem with maps is not that Africa is sized incorrectly.

Using the animation below, you’ll see that Africa is actually the most accurately sized continent using the common Mercator map projection:

True size of countries animation Mercator

The Mercator projection attempts to place the spherical shape of the world onto a cylinder, causing areas closest to the poles to be “stretched”.

Africa, which straddles the Equator, barely changes in size — meanwhile, the countries furthest from the Equator become inflated from their true sizes on this type of map.

Mercator cylindrical projection

For those of us living in Western countries, this is an interesting dilemma to consider.

This means that the sizes of European and North American countries are distorted, giving us an inaccurate mental “measuring stick” for judging the relative sizes of other countries.

This has implications not only for Africa, but for the whole Southern Hemisphere: South America, India, the Middle East, and even Australia are “bigger” than they may initially appear on a map.

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Business

From Bean to Brew: The Coffee Supply Chain

How does coffee get from a faraway plant to your morning cup? See the great journey of beans through the coffee supply chain.

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Coffee-supply-visualized-1200

What Does The Coffee Supply Chain Look Like?

View a more detailed version of the above graphic by clicking here

There’s a good chance your day started with a cappuccino, or a cold brew, and you aren’t alone. In fact, coffee is one of the most consumed drinks on the planet, and it’s also one of the most traded commodities.

According to the National Coffee Association, more than 150 million people drink coffee on a daily basis in the U.S. alone. Globally, consumption is estimated at over 2.25 billion cups per day.

But before it gets to your morning cup, coffee beans travel through a complex global supply chain. Today’s illustration from Dan Zettwoch breaks down this journey into 10 distinct steps.

Coffee From Plant to Factory

There are two types of tropical plants that produce coffee, both preferring high altitudes and with production primarily based in South America, Asia, and Africa.

  • Coffea arabica is the more plentiful bean, with a more complex flavor and less caffeine. It’s used in most specialty and “high quality” drinks as Arabica coffee.
  • Coffea canephora, meanwhile, has stronger and more bitter flavors. It’s also easier to grow, and is most frequently used in espressos and instant blends as Robusta coffee.

However, both types of beans undergo the same journey:

  1. Growing
    Plants take anywhere from 4-7 years to produce their first harvest, and grow fruit for around 25 years.
  2. Picking
    The fruit of the coffea plant is the coffee berry, containing two beans within. Ripened berries are harvested either by hand or machine.
  3. Processing
    Coffee berries are then processed either in a traditional “dry” method using the sun or “wet” method using water and machinery. This removes the outer fruit encasing the sought-after green beans.
  4. Milling
    The green coffee beans are hulled, cleaned, sorted, and (optionally) graded.

From Factory to Transport

Once the coffee berry is stripped down to green beans, it’s shipped from producing countries through a global supply network.

Green coffee beans are exported and shipped around the world. In 2018 alone, 7.2 million tonnes of green coffee beans were exported, valued at $19.2 billion.

Arriving primarily in the U.S. and Europe, the beans are now prepared for consumption:

  1. Roasting
    Green beans are industrially roasted, becoming darker, oilier, and tasty. Different temperatures and heat duration impact the final color and flavor, with some preferring light roasts to dark roasts.
  2. Packaging
    Any imperfect or somehow ruined beans are discarded, and the remaining roasted beans are packaged together by type.
  3. Shipping
    Roasted beans are shipped both domestically and internationally. Bulk shipments go to retailers, coffee shops, and in some cases, direct to consumer.

Straight to Your Cup

Roasted coffee beans are almost ready for consumption, and by this stage the remaining steps can happen anywhere.

For example, many factories don’t ship roasted beans until they grind it themselves. Meanwhile, cafes will grind their own beans on-site before preparing drinks. The rapid growth of coffee chains made Starbucks the second-highest-earning U.S. fast food venue.

Regardless of where it happens, the final steps bring coffee straight to your cup:

  1. Grinding
    Roasted beans are ground up in order to better extract their flavors, either by machine or by hand. The preferred fineness depends on the darkness of the roast and the brewing method.
  2. Brewing
    Water is added to the coffee grounds in a variety of methods. Some involve water being passed or pressured through the grounds (espresso, drip) while others mix the water and grounds (French press, Turkish coffee).
  3. Drinking
    Liquid coffee is ready to be enjoyed! One average cup takes 70 roasted beans to make.

The world’s choice of caffeine pick-me-up is made possible by this structured and complex supply chain. Coffee isn’t just a drink, after all, it’s a business.

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Misc

The Biggest Ammonium Nitrate Explosions Since 2000

Ammonium nitrate is dangerous, and every few years, there’s a new explosion that causes widespread damage. These are some of the biggest ones.

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The Biggest Ammonium Nitrate Explosions since 2000

This week, a massive explosion involving ammonium nitrate rocked the city of Beirut, sending shock waves through the media.

This recent tragedy is devastating, and unfortunately, it’s not the first time this dangerous chemical compound has caused widespread damage.

Today’s graphic outlines the biggest accidental ammonium nitrate explosions over the last 20 years.

A Brief Explanation of Ammonium Nitrate

Before getting into the details, first thing’s first—what is ammonium nitrate?

Ammonium nitrate is formed when ammonia gas is combined with liquid nitric acid. The chemical compound is widely used in agriculture as a fertilizer, but it’s also used in mining explosives. It’s highly combustible when combined with oils and other fuels, but not flammable on its own unless exposed to extremely high temperatures.

It’s actually relatively tough for a fire to cause an ammonium nitrate explosion—but that hasn’t stopped it from happening numerous times in the last few decades.

The Death Toll

Some explosions involving ammonium nitrate have been deadlier than others. Here’s a breakdown of the death toll from each blast:

YearLocationCountryDeaths
2015TianjinChina165
2004RyongchonNorth Korea160
2020BeirutLebanon157*
2007MonclovaMexico57
2001ToulouseFrance30
2003Saint-Romain-en-JarezFrance26
2004MihăileştiRomania18
2013WestUnited States15
2004BarracasSpain2
2014WyandraAustralia0

*Note: death count in Beirut as of Aug 6, 2020. Casualty count expected to increase as more information comes available.

One of the deadliest explosions happened in Tianjin, China in 2015. A factory was storing flammable chemicals with ammonium nitrate, and because they weren’t being stored properly, one of the chemicals got too dry and caught fire. The blast killed 165 people and caused $1.1 billion dollars in damage.

In 2001, 14 years before the explosion in Tianjin, a factory exploded in Toulouse, France. The accident killed 30 people and injured 2,500. The power of the blast was equivalent to 20 to 40 tons of TNT, meaning that 40 to 80 tons of ammonium nitrate would have ignited.

In addition to factory explosions, there have been several transportation accidents involving ammonium nitrate. In 2007, a truck in Mexico blew up and killed over 57 people. Filled with explosives, the truck crashed into a pickup, caught fire, and detonated. The blast left a 60-foot long crater in its wake.

The Aftermath

While there have been several ammonium nitrate accidents throughout history, the recent tragedy in Beirut is one of the largest accidental explosions ever recorded, with 157 deaths and 5,000 injuries and counting.

In terms of TNT equivalent, a measure used to gauge the impact of an explosion, it ranks in the top 10 of the largest accidental explosions in history:

Topping the list is yet another ammonium nitrate explosion, this time back in 1947.

Known to history as the Texas City Disaster, the port accident was one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions to occur in history. The explosion killed over 500 people and injured thousands. The impact from the blast was so intense, it created a 15-foot wave that crashed along the docks and caused flooding in the area.

A Resource With Trade-Offs

Despite being dangerous, ammonium nitrate is still a valuable resource. There’s been an increased demand for the chemical from North America’s agricultural sector, and because of this, ammonium nitrate’s market size is expected to see an increase of more than 3% by 2026.

Because of its increasing market size, it’s more important than ever for trade industries to enforce proper safety measures when storing and transporting ammonium nitrate. When safety regulations aren’t followed, accidents can happen—and as we saw this week, the aftermath can be devastating.

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