Mercator Misconceptions: Clever Map Shows the True Size of Countries
Maps are hugely important tools in our everyday life, whether it’s guiding our journeys from point A to B, or shaping our big picture perceptions about geopolitics and the environment.
For many people, the Earth as they know it is heavily informed by the Mercator projection – a tool used for nautical navigation that eventually became the world’s most widely recognized map.
Mercator’s Rise to the Top
With any map projection style, the big challenge lies in depicting a spherical object as a 2D graphic. There are various trade-offs with any map style, and those trade-offs can vary depending on how the map is meant to be used.
In 1569, the great cartographer, Gerardus Mercator, created a revolutionary new map based on a cylindrical projection. The new map was well-suited to nautical navigation since every line on the sphere is a constant course, or loxodrome.
The vast majority of us aren’t using paper maps to chart our course across the ocean anymore, so critics of the Mercator projection argue that the continued use of this style of map gives users a warped sense of the true size of countries – particularly in the case of the African continent.
Mercator’s map inadvertently also pumps up the sizes of Europe and North America. Visually speaking, Canada and Russia appear to take up approximately 25% of the Earth’s surface, when in reality they occupy a mere 5%.
As the animated gif below – created by Reddit user, neilrkaye – demonstrates, northern nations such as Canada and Russia have been artifiically “pumped up” in the minds of many people around the world.
Greenland, which appears as a massive icy continent in Mercator projection, shrinks way down. The continent of Africa takes a much more prominent position in this new, correctly-scaled map.
Despite inaccurate visual features – or perhaps because of them – the Mercator projection achieved widespread adoption around the world. This includes the classroom, where young minds are first learning about geography and forming opinions on relationships between countries.
Getting Reacquainted with Globes
Google, whose map app is used by approximately 150 million people per month, recently took the bold step of overlaying their map onto a globe. This change sidesteps projection issues completely and displays the world as it actually is: round.
Greenland’s projection is no longer the size of Africa.
– Google Maps team
As people become more accustomed to equal area maps and seeing the Earth in its spherical form, misconceptions about the size of continents may become a thing of the past.
Mapped: The World’s Biggest Oil Discoveries Since 1868
Since 1868, there had been 1,232 oil discoveries over 500 million barrels of oil. This map plots these discoveries to reveal global energy hot spots.
Mapped: The World’s Biggest Oil Discoveries Since 1868
Oil and gas discoveries excite markets and nations with the prospect of profits, tax revenues, and jobs. However, geological processes did not distribute them equally throughout the Earth’s crust and their mere presence does not guarantee a windfall for whatever nation under which they lie.
Entire economies and nations have been built on the discovery and exploitation of oil and gas, while some nations have misused this wealth─or projected growth just never materialized.
The 20 Biggest Oil Discoveries
This map includes 1,232 discoveries of recoverable reserves over 500 million barrels of oil equivalent (BOE) From 1868 to 2010.
The discoveries cluster in certain parts of the world, covering 46 countries, and are of significant magnitude for each country’s economy. The average discovery is worth 1.4% of a country’s GDP today, based on the cash value from their production or net present value (NPV).
Of the total 1,232 discoveries, these are the 20 largest oil and gas fields:
|Field||Onshore/Offshore||Location||Discovery||Production start||Recoverable oil, past and future (billion barrels)|
|Ghawar Field||Onshore||Saudi Arabia||1948||1951||88-104|
|Mesopotamian Foredeep Basin||Onshore||Kuwait||n/a||n/a||66-72|
|Bolivar Coastal Field||Onshore||Venezuela||1917||1922||30-32|
|Safaniya Field||Offshore||Kuwait/Saudi Arabia||1951||1957||30|
|Upper Zakum Field||Offshore||Abu Dhabi, UAE||1963||1967||21|
|Romashkino Field||Onshore||Russia Volga-Ural||1948||1949||16-17|
|Shaybah Field||Onshore||Saudi Arabia||1998||1998||15|
|West Qurna Field||Onshore||Iraq||1973||2012||15-21|
Russia, West Siberia
The location of these deposits reveals a certain pattern to geopolitical flashpoints and their importance to the global economy.
While these discoveries have brought immense advantages in the form of cheap fuel and massive revenues, they have also altered and challenged how nations govern their natural wealth.
The Future of Resource Wealth: A Curse or a Blessing?
A ‘presource curse’ could follow in the wake of the discovery, whereby predictions of projected growth and feelings of euphoria turn into disappointment.
An oil discovery can impose detrimental consequences on an economy long before a single barrel leaves the ground. Ideally, a discovery should increase the economic output of a country that claims the oil. However, after major discoveries, the projected growth sometimes does not always materialize as predicted.
Getting from discovery to sustained prosperity depends on a number of steps. Countries must secure investment to develop a project to production, and government policy must respond by preparing the economy for an inflow of investment and foreign currency. However, this is a challenging prospect, as the appetite for these massive projects appears to be waning.
In a world working towards reducing its dependence on fossil fuels, what will happen to countries that depend on oil wealth when demand begins to dwindle?
Countries can no longer assume their oil and gas resources will translate into reliable wealth — instead, it is how you manage what you have now that counts.
Mapped: Top Countries by Tourist Spending
How much do your vacations contribute to your destination of choice? This visualization shows the countries that receive the most tourist spending.
Mapped: Top Countries by Tourist Spending
Many people spend their days looking forward to their next getaway. But do you know exactly how much these vacation plans contribute economically to your chosen destination?
Today’s visualization from HowMuch.net highlights the countries in which tourists spend the most money. Locations have been resized based on spending amounts, which come from the latest data from the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
Oh, The Places Tourists Will Go
Across the different regions, Europe’s combined tourist spending dominates at $570 billion. Easy access to closely-located countries, both via rail networks and a shared currency, may be a reason why almost 710 million visitors toured the region in 2018.
Asia-Pacific, which includes Australia and numerous smaller islands, saw the greatest growth in tourism expenditures. Total spending reached $435 billion in 2018—a 7% year-over-year increase, from 348 million visitors. Not surprisingly, some areas such as Macao (SAR) tend to rely heavily on tourists as a primary economic driver.
Here’s how other continental regions fared, in terms of tourist spending and visitors:
Total expenditures: $333 billion
Total visitors: 216 million
Expenses per visitor: $1,542
- Middle East
Total expenditures: $73 billion
Total visitors: 60 million
Expenses per visitor: $1,216
Total expenditures: $38 billion
Total visitors: 67 million
Expenses per visitor: $567
Of course, these numbers only paint a rudimentary picture of global tourism, as they vary greatly even within these regions. Let’s look closer at the individual country data for 2018, compared to previous years.
The Top Tourist Hotspots, By Country
It seems that many tourists are gravitating towards the same destinations, as evidenced by both the number of arrivals and overall expenditures for 2017 and 2018 alike.
|Country||2018 Spending||2018 Arrivals||Country||2017 Spending||2017 Arrivals|
|1. U.S. 🇺🇸||$214.5B||79.6M||1. U.S. 🇺🇸||$210.7B||74.8M|
|2. Spain 🇪🇸||$73.8B||82.8M||2. Spain 🇪🇸||$68B||81.8M|
|2. France 🇫🇷||$67.4B||89.4M||3. France 🇫🇷||$60.7B||86.9M|
|4. Thailand 🇹🇭||$63B||38.3M||4. Thailand 🇹🇭||$57.5B||35.4M|
|5. UK 🇬🇧||$51.9B||36.3M||5. UK 🇬🇧||51.2B||37.7M|
|6. Italy 🇮🇹||$49.3B||62.1M||6. Italy 🇮🇹||$44.2B||58.3M|
|7. Australia 🇦🇺||$45B||9.2M||7. Australia 🇦🇺||$41.7B||8.8M|
|8. Germany 🇩🇪||$43B||38.9M||8. Germany 🇩🇪||$39.8B||37.5M|
|9. Japan 🇯🇵||$41.1B||31.2M||9. Macao (SAR) 🇲🇴||$35.6B||17M|
|10. China 🇨🇳||$40.4B||62.9M||10. Japan 🇯🇵||$34.1B||28.6M|
Source: World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
Note that data is for international tourism only and does not include domestic tourism.
The top contenders have remained fairly consistent, as each country brings something unique to the table—from natural wonders to historic and man-made structures.
Where Highest-Spending Tourists Come From
The nationality of tourists also seems to be a factor in these total expenditures. Chinese tourists spent $277 billion internationally in 2018, likely thanks to the increasing consumption of an emerging, affluent middle class.
Interestingly, this amount is almost twice the combined $144 billion that American tourists spent overseas in the same year.
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