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Mercator Misconceptions: Clever Map Shows the True Size of Countries

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mercator projection true size of countries

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Mercator Misconceptions: Clever Map Shows the True Size of Countries

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.

Geographic Inflation

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.

True size of countries animation Mercator

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.

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Maps

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.

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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:

  • Americas
    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
  • Africa
    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.

Country2018 Spending2018 Arrivals Country2017 Spending2017 Arrivals
1. U.S. 🇺🇸$214.5B79.6M1. U.S. 🇺🇸$210.7B74.8M
2. Spain 🇪🇸$73.8B82.8M2. Spain 🇪🇸$68B81.8M
2. France 🇫🇷$67.4B89.4M3. France 🇫🇷$60.7B86.9M
4. Thailand 🇹🇭$63B38.3M4. Thailand 🇹🇭$57.5B35.4M
5. UK 🇬🇧$51.9B36.3M5. UK 🇬🇧51.2B37.7M
6. Italy 🇮🇹$49.3B62.1M6. Italy 🇮🇹$44.2B58.3M
7. Australia 🇦🇺$45B9.2M7. Australia 🇦🇺$41.7B8.8M
8. Germany 🇩🇪$43B38.9M8. Germany 🇩🇪$39.8B37.5M
9. Japan 🇯🇵$41.1B31.2M9. Macao (SAR) 🇲🇴$35.6B17M
10. China 🇨🇳$40.4B62.9M10. Japan 🇯🇵$34.1B28.6M

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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Demographics

Mapped: The Dramatic Global Rise of Urbanization (1950–2020)

Few global trends have matched the profound impact of urbanization. Today’s map looks back at 70 years of movement in over 1,800 cities.

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The Dramatic Global Rise of Urbanization (1950–2020)

In the 21st century, few trends have matched the economic, environmental, and societal impact of rapid urbanization.

A steady stream of human migration out of the countryside, and into swelling metropolitan centers, has shaken up the world’s power dynamic in just decades.

Today’s eye-catching map via Cristina Poiata from Z Creative Labs looks at 70 years of movement and urban population growth in over 1,800 cities worldwide. Where is the action?

Out of the Farms and Into the Cities

The United Nations cites two intertwined reasons for urbanization: an overall population increase that’s unevenly distributed by region, and an upward trend in people flocking to cities.

Since 1950, the world’s urban population has risen almost six-fold, from 751 million to 4.2 billion in 2018. In North America alone, significant urban growth can be observed in the video for Mexico and the East Coast of the United States as this shift takes place.

Global Urban Population vs. Rural

Over the next few decades, the rural population is expected to plateau and eventually decline, while urban growth will continue to shoot up to six billion people and beyond.

The Biggest Urban Hot-Spots

Urban growth is going to happen all across the board.

Rapidly rising populations in megacities and major cities will be significant contributors, but it’s also worth noting that the number of regional to mid-sized cities (500k to 5 million inhabitants) will swell drastically by 2030, becoming more influential economic hubs in the process.

global cities by size 1990 to 2030

Interestingly, it’s mainly cities across Asia and Africa — some of which Westerners are largely unfamiliar with — that may soon wield enormous influence on the global stage.

It’s expected that over a third of the projected urban growth between now and 2050 will occur in just three countries: India, China, and Nigeria. By 2050, it is projected that India could add 416 million urban dwellers, China 255 million, and Nigeria 189 million.

Urbanization and its Complications

Rapid urbanization isn’t only linked to an inevitable rise in city populations.

Some megacities are actually experiencing population contractions, in part due to the effects of low fertility rates in Asia and Europe. For example, while the Greater Tokyo area contains almost 38 million people today, it’s expected to shrink starting in 2020.

As rapid urbanization continues to shape the global economy, finding ways to provide the right infrastructure and services in cities will be a crucial problem to solve for communities and organizations around the world. How we deal with these issues — or how we don’t — will set the stage for the next act in the modern economic era.

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