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Vintage Viz: The World’s Rivers and Lakes, Organized Neatly



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Hand colored engraved view of the comparative length of the rivers and size of the lakes in the world. Includes list of rivers and lakes beneath the view.

Vintage Viz: The World’s Rivers and Lakes, Organized Neatly

Rivers and lakes have borne witness to many of humanity’s greatest moments.

In the first century BCE, the Rubicon not only marked the border between the Roman provinces of Gaul and Italia, but also the threshold for civil war. From the shores of Lake Van in 1071, you could witness the Battle of Manzikert and the beginning of the end for the Byzantine Empire.

Rivers carry our trade, our dead, and even our prayers, so when London mapmaker James Reynolds partnered with engraver John Emslie to publish the Panoramic Plan of the Principal Rivers and Lakes in 1850, he could be sure of a warm reception.

The visualization, the latest in our Vintage Viz series, beautifully illustrates 42 principal rivers in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas, along with 36 lakes across the Eastern and Western hemispheres. Each river has been unraveled and straightened onto an imaginary landscape-–no meandering here—and arranged by size. Major cities are marked by a deep orangy-red.

Top 3 Longest Principal Rivers (in 1850)

According to this visualization, the Mighty Mississippi is among the world’s longest, coming in at 3,650 miles, followed by the Amazon, the Nile, and the Yangtze river in China. The bottom three are the Tay in Scotland (125 miles), the Shannon in Ireland (200 miles), and the Potomac in the U.S. (275 miles).

Surveying methods have come a long way since 1850, and we now have satellites, GPS, and lasers, so we can update these rankings. According to the CIA World Factbook, the Nile (6,650 km / 4,132 miles), the Amazon (6,436 km / 3,998 miles), and the Yangtze (6,300 km / 3,915 miles) are the world’s top three longest rivers.

The table below shows the rivers in the graphic above compared with today’s measurements, as well as the general location of rivers using 1850 location names (including modern day locations in brackets).

RiverTerritoryViz length (miles)Modern length (miles)
MississippiUnited States3,6502,340
NileEgypt and Abyssinia (Ethiopia)3,3254,132
La PlataLa Plata (Argentina/Uruguay)2,4503,030
GangesHindostan (India)1,9751,569
EuphratesA(siatic) Turkey1,8501,740
IndusCaubul etc (Afghanistan etc)1,7001,988
McKenzieIndian Territory (Canada)1,6001,080
SenegalSenegambia (Senegal)1,4501,020
OronocoGran Colombia (Venezuela)1,3251,700
GambiaSenegambia (The Gambia)1,300740
Bravo del Norta (Rio Grande)Mexico1,1501,900
St. LawrenceCanada1,1251,900
OrangeNamaqualand (Namibia/South Africa)1,1001,367
OderPrussia (Germany)625529
ColorandoLa Plato (United States)6001,450
TagueSpain and Portugal575626
SusquehanaUnited States575464
PoNorth Italy450405
HudsonUnited States425315
DelawareUnited States325301
PotomacUnited States275405

These figures are a unique look into a time period where humanity’s efforts to quantify the world were still very much a work in progress.

Editor’s note: Some of the rivers and lakes are spelled slightly differently in 1850 than they are today. For example, the map notes today’s Mackenzie River (Canada) as the McKenzie River, and the Yangtze River (China) as the Yangtse.

O Say, Can You Sea?

The largest ‘lake’ in this visualization is the Caspian Sea (118,000 sq. miles), followed by the Black Sea (113,000 sq. miles), and the greatest of the Great Lakes, Lake Superior (22,400 sq. miles). While the Caspian Sea is considered a saltwater lake and could reasonably have a place here, the Black Sea—possibly bearing that name because of the color black’s association with “north”—is not a lake by any stretch of the imagination.

And while many of the surface areas reported could also be updated with modern estimates, the story behind Lake Chad (called Ichad in the visualization), the Aral Sea, and the Dead Sea are altogether different. Human development, unsustainable water use, and climate change have led to dramatic drops in water levels.

The Dead Sea in particular had a surface area of 405 sq. miles (1,050 km2) in 1930, but has since dropped to 234 sq. miles (606.1 km2) in 2016.

LakeTerritoryViz surface area (sq. miles)Modern surface area (sq. miles)
Caspian SeaRussia118,000143,000
Black SeaTurkey113,000168,500
SuperiorNorth America22,40031,700
HuronNorth America15,80023,007
MichiganNorth America12,60022,404
Great SlaveNorth America12,00010,500
Aral SeaTartary (Central Eurasia)11,6506,900
Baikal SeaSiberia8,00012,248
WinnepegNorth America7,2009,416
MaracaiboSouth America6,0005,130
TiticacaSouth America5,4003,030
ErieNorth America4,8009,910
OntarioNorth America4,4507,340
Great BearNorth America4,00012,028
AthabascaNorth America3,2003,030
NicaraguaNorth America2,9053,149
OtehenantekaneNorth America2,5002,500
WinnepagosNorth America2,0002,070
DembiaAbyssinia (Ethiopia)1,3001,418
EnareLapland (Finland)8701,040
Dead SeaSyria370605
Lough NeaghIreland80153
Loch LomondScotland2727

You Can’t Step in the Same River Twice

Over time, natural and anthropogenic forces cause rivers to change their course, and lakes to shift their banks. If Reynolds and Emslie were alive today to update this visualization, it would likely look quite different, as would one made 100 years from now. But so goes the river of time.

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The Largest Earthquakes in the New York Area (1970-2024)

The earthquake that shook buildings across New York in April 2024 was the third-largest quake in the Northeast U.S. over the past 50 years.



Map of earthquakes with a magnitude of 4.0 or greater recorded in the northeastern U.S. since 1970.

The Largest Earthquakes in the New York Area

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on Apple or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

The 4.8 magnitude earthquake that shook buildings across New York on Friday, April 5th, 2024 was the third-largest quake in the U.S. Northeast area over the past 50 years.

In this map, we illustrate earthquakes with a magnitude of 4.0 or greater recorded in the Northeastern U.S. since 1970, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

Shallow Quakes and Older Buildings

The earthquake that struck the U.S. Northeast in April 2024 was felt by millions of people from Washington, D.C., to north of Boston. It even caused a full ground stop at Newark Airport.

The quake, occurring just 5 km beneath the Earth’s surface, was considered shallow, which is what contributed to more intense shaking at the surface.

According to the USGS, rocks in the eastern U.S. are significantly older, denser, and harder than those on the western side, compressed by time. This makes them more efficient conduits for seismic energy. Additionally, buildings in the Northeast tend to be older and may not adhere to the latest earthquake codes.

Despite disrupting work and school life, the earthquake was considered minor, according to the Michigan Technological University magnitude scale:

MagnitudeEarthquake EffectsEstimated Number
Each Year
2.5 or lessUsually not felt, but can be
recorded by seismograph.
2.5 to 5.4Often felt, but only causes
minor damage.
5.5 to 6.0Slight damage to buildings
and other structures.
6.1 to 6.9May cause a lot of damage
in very populated areas.
7.0 to 7.9Major earthquake.
Serious damage.
8.0 or greaterGreat earthquake. Can totally
destroy communities near the
One every year
or two

The largest earthquake felt in the area over the past 50 years was a 5.3 magnitude quake that occurred in Au Sable Forks, New York, in 2002. It damaged houses and cracked roads in a remote corner of the Adirondack Mountains, but caused no injuries.

April 20, 20025.3Au Sable ForksNew York
October 7, 19835.1NewcombNew York
April 5, 20244.8Whitehouse StationNew Jersey
October 16, 20124.7Hollis CenterMaine
January 16, 19944.6Sinking SpringPennsylvania
January 19, 19824.5SanborntonNew Hampshire
September 25, 19984.5AdamsvillePennsylvania
June 9, 19754.2AltonaNew York
May 29, 19834.2PeruMaine
April 23, 19844.2ConestogaPennsylvania
January 16, 19944.2Sinking SpringPennsylvania
November 3, 19754Long LakeNew York
June 17, 19914WorcesterNew York

The largest earthquake in U.S. history, however, was the 1964 Good Friday quake in Alaska, measuring 9.2 magnitude and killing 131 people.

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