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Visualizing the True Size of Land Masses from Largest to Smallest

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The True Size of Nations

Note: Some of the land areas depicted in this graphic by Art.Lebedev are shown in separate components (e.g. U.S. and Malaysia) or are disputed and/or occupied territories (e.g. Abkhazia, Crimea, and Taiwan).

The True Size of Land Masses from Largest to Smallest

Is Greenland the size of the entire African continent?

No…

But looking at a map based on the Mercator projection, you would think so.

Today’s infographic comes from the design studio Art.Lebedev and shows the true size of the world’s land masses in order from largest to smallest using data from NASA and Google.

Check out the actual shape and size of each land mass without any distortions.

Distorting Reality: Mercator Misconceptions

Maps can deceive your eyes but they are still powerful tools for specific purposes. In 1569, the legendary cartographer, Gerardus Mercator, created a new map based on a cylindrical projection of sections of the Earth. These types of maps were suited for nautical navigation since every line on the sphere is a constant course, or loxodrome.

Despite the map’s nautical utility, the Mercator projection has an unwanted downside. The map type increases the sizes of land masses close to the poles (such as in North America, Europe, or North Asia) as a side effect. As a result, Canada and Russia appear to take up approximately 25% of the Earth’s surface, when in reality these nations only occupy 5%.

“Things are not always what they seem; the first appearance deceives many.” – Phaedrus

This collection of images above represents the world’s land masses in their correct proportions. Measurements are based on Google Maps 2016 and NASA Earth Observatory maps, with calculations based on the WGS84 reference ellipsoid, or more simply, a specific model of the Earth’s shape in two dimensions.

We take for granted Google Maps and satellite imaging. Making these accurate representations is no small task – the designers went through six steps and many different iterations of the graphic.

Countries are arranged by descending size and shown without external or dependent territories. For example, the total area for the contiguous United States shown does not include Hawaii, Alaska, or overseas territories.

Top 10 Largest Land Masses

Although Mercator maps distort the size of land masses in the Northern Hemisphere, many of these countries still cover massive territories.

JurisdictionArea (km²)
Russia16,440,626
Antarctica12,269,609
China9,258,246
Canada8,908,366
Brazil8,399,858
United States (contiguous)7,654,643
Australia7,602,329
India3,103,770
Argentina2,712,060
Kazakhstan2,653,464

The top 10 land masses by size account for 55% of the Earth’s total land. The remainder is split by the world’s 195 or so other countries.

Top 10 Smallest Land Masses

Here are the 10 tiniest jurisdictions highlighted on the map:

JurisdictionArea (km²)
Sealand0.001
Kingman Reef0.002
Vatican City0.5
Kure Atoll0.9
Tromelin Island1
Johnston Atoll1
Baker Island1
Howland Island2
Monaco2
Palmyra Atoll3

While the Earth’s land surface has been claimed by many authorities, the actual impact of human activity is less than one would think.

Human Impact: Humbled by Nature

Political borders have claimed virtually every piece of land available. Despite this, only 20% of land on the planet has been visibly impacted by human activity, and only 15% of Earth’s land surface is formally under protection.

The remaining 80% of the land hosts natural ecosystems that help to purify air and water, recycle nutrients, enhance soil fertility, pollinate plants, and break down waste products. The value of maintaining these services to the human economy is worth trillions of U.S. dollars each year.

While some nations are not as big as they look on the map, every piece of land counts.

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Politics

This is How Much NATO Countries Spend on Defense

How much does each country in the military alliance contribute to NATO defense spending? We break it down with this map.

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Visualizing the Defense Spending of Each NATO country

This Is How Much NATO Countries Spend on Defense

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) exists for the sole purpose of facilitating a political and military alliance between almost 30 countries. All are obligated to one another in times of war, but some countries have much stronger militaries and defense systems than others.

Using data from NATO, this map reveals what each NATO member country spends on its own national defense.

Note: Numbers are 2021 projections.

Biggest NATO Defense Spenders

The U.S. spends more on defense than any other NATO country.

According to the 2021 estimates, U.S. defense spending will be close to $811 billion this year. On the other hand, the defense spending of all other NATO countries combined is projected to be $363 billion, meaning the U.S. will outspend all other countries by a whopping $448 billion.

RankCountryMillions (USD) 2021pChange (2014-2021)
#1🇺🇸 United States$811,14024.0%
#2🇬🇧 United Kingdom$72,76510.8%
#3🇩🇪 Germany$64,78540.3%
#4🇫🇷 France$58,72912.9%
#5🇮🇹 Italy$29,76321.5%
#6🇨🇦 Canada$26,52346.0%
#7🇪🇸 Spain$14,87517.7%
#8🇳🇱 Netherlands$14,37838.9%
#9🇵🇱 Poland$13,36932.3%
#10🇹🇷 Turkey$13,057-3.8%
#11🇳🇴 Norway$8,2927.4%
#12🇬🇷 Greece$8,01453.1%
#13🇧🇪 Belgium$6,50325.1%
#14🇷🇴 Romania$5,785114.9%
#15🇩🇰 Denmark$5,52236.1%
#16🇨🇿 Czech Republic$4,013103.2%
#17🇵🇹 Portugal$3,97532.2%
#18🇭🇺 Hungary$2,907140.3%
#19🇸🇰 Slovakia$2,043104.6%
#20🇭🇷 Croatia$1,84673.6%
#21🇱🇹 Lithuania$1,278198.8%
#22🇧🇬 Bulgaria$1,25367.7%
#23🇱🇻 Latvia$851189.9%
#24🇪🇪 Estonia$78753.2%
#25🇸🇮 Slovenia$76056.0%
#26🇱🇺 Luxembourg$47487.4%
#27🇦🇱 Albania$23933.8%
#28🇲🇰 North Macedonia$21976.6%
#29🇲🇪 Montenegro$9740.0%

NATO is based on building up forces and equipment for the goal of joint security and defense. And, despite the pandemic, many members did increase their spending in 2020.

However, not all countries contribute equally. The agreed-upon target for European NATO members, for example, is to spend 2% of GDP on defense by 2024, but many countries are not on track to meet this goal.

Who Pays for NATO Itself?

One of the key pillars of NATO is collective defense: a commitment to the idea that an act of violence against one or more of its member states is an act of aggression towards all.

Collective defense, cooperative security, and crisis management are at the heart of NATO’s purpose and operations.

Apart from defense spending, running a transcontinental political alliance costs around $3 billion annually. So which countries foot the bill for these expenses?

CountryCost Share Arrangements
(2021-2024)
🇺🇸 United States16.36%
🇩🇪 Germany16.36%
🇬🇧 United Kingdom11.29%
🇫🇷 France10.50%
🇮🇹 Italy8.79%
🇨🇦 Canada6.88%
🇪🇸 Spain6.00%
🇹🇷 Turkey4.73%
🇳🇱 Netherlands3.45%
🇵🇱 Poland2.99%
🇧🇪 Belgium2.11%
🇳🇴 Norway1.78%
🇩🇰 Denmark1.31%
🇷🇴 Romania1.23%
🇬🇷 Greece1.06%
🇨🇿 Czech Republic1.06%
🇵🇹 Portugal1.05%
🇭🇺 Hungary0.76%
🇸🇰 Slovakia0.52%
🇧🇬 Bulgaria0.37%
🇭🇷 Croatia0.30%
🇱🇹 Lithuania0.26%
🇸🇮 Slovenia0.23%
🇱🇺 Luxembourg0.17%
🇱🇻 Latvia0.16%
🇪🇪 Estonia0.12%
🇦🇱 Albania0.09%
🇮🇸 Iceland0.06%
🇲🇪 Montenegro0.03%
Total 100.00%

Members have pre-arranged mechanisms to divide NATO alliance expenses evenly.

Getting into specifics, the members are paying for:

  • Civilian staff wages and overhead costs of running NATO headquarters.
  • Running strategic commands, joint operations, early warning and radar systems, training, etc.
  • Defense communications systems, harbors, airfields, and fuel supplies.

The Future of NATO

While outright nation-on-nation conflict is becoming more rare, threats to the collective security of NATO allies have not disappeared.

While countries may have differing opinions over the exact amount each should contribute, rising expenditures are a sign that NATO is still a priority for the near future.

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Politics

Map Explainer: Key Facts About Afghanistan

This map explainer looks at Afghanistan from a structural point of view, delving into geography and population patterns.

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afghanistan map explainer

Map Explainer: Key Facts About Afghanistan

The country of Afghanistan has a long and complicated history of domination by foreign powers and conflict between factions within the country.

While Afghanistan is well covered in headlines and news stories, the lion’s share of this coverage is directly related to conflict. As a result, Afghanistan is viewed by many in Western countries as a war-torn desert, with conflict, ideology, and geopolitical power obscuring more practical information about the country and its people.

In the Afghanistan map graphic above, we step back and examine Afghanistan from a structural point of view. How does its unique landscape influence population patterns? How does this geography influence the economy and relationships with neighboring nations? Let’s dive in.

Mountain High, Valley Low

Afghanistan’s rugged landscape is defined by towering snow-capped mountains, fertile valleys, and expansive deserts.

First, the country has a wide variety of climate extremes. There is more than 100ºC (180ºF) separating the record high and low temperatures.

The extremes don’t stop at temperature though. Afghanistan has the sixth-highest elevation span in the world, with 7,234m (23,734 ft) between its highest and lowest point. Afghanistan is one of 44 landlocked nations in the world, which helps explain why its lowest point is so much higher than sea level.

For those living in North America, the country’s terrain has been compared to Colorado, with Kabul sharing similarities with Denver.

Where Do People Live in Afghanistan?

Settlement patterns in Afghanistan are similar to other countries in the region; people cluster where there is access to fresh water.

As the cartogram below demonstrates, a large portion of the country’s population is located around Kabul, and the region adjacent to the Kabul River.

afghanistan gridded population cartogram

Source

The southwestern province of Nimruz is the most sparsely populated area in the country. The Wakhan Corridor—which connects Afghanistan to China—is also very sparsely populated, with about 14,000 total residents.

Key Facts About Afghanistan’s Demographics

Afghanistan has a very youthful population. The country’s median age of 19 years is one of the youngest in the world, and is low compared to its neighbors Pakistan (24) and Iran (30).

afghanistan demographic population pyramid

Islam is the official state religion of Afghanistan. 99.7% of the Afghan population are Muslim, one of the highest proportions of the 49 Muslim-majority countries.

So far in 2021, the OCHA estimates that 550,000 people in Afghanistan are “internally displaced” due to conflict, and this number may rise still as new data tracks the final days of the Taliban’s takeover of the country. The majority of those displaced persons are children.

Paving the Way

The Ring Road connecting Afghanistan’s major cities began in the 1960s but was soon cut short by war. After the U.S. took control in 2001, new road construction began in earnest.

Between 2002 and 2016, USAID and the Department of Defense (DoD) spent approximately $2.8 billion building and maintaining Afghanistan’s road infrastructure. This number doesn’t include additional investment from other sources that poured in to improve the country’s road network.

The result is a more comprehensive road network, but one that is difficult to maintain. A 2016 report found collapsed bridges and sections of road around the country that were washed out.

Resources and Relationships

Afghanistan is a critical source of fresh water for the arid region. Several major regional rivers flow from the country’s mountainous eastern provinces into neighboring countries, so any new irrigation schemes and dam infrastructure will come with a geopolitical price tag as well.

Already in the recent past, tensions have increased with Iran and Pakistan over the flow of water crossing the border.

Outside countries are also very interested in Afghanistan’s rich mineral resources. Decades of near-continuous conflict have made mining a tough proposition in the country, but with growing demand for resources such as lithium and rare earths, that may soon change.

afghanistan mineral production potential

Source

Afghanistan is estimated to have over $1 trillion of untapped mineral reserves, and outside interests are taking notice.

China said it was ready for “friendly and cooperative relations” with the new Taliban regime, and it’s possible that investment from China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) may step in to fill the vacuum left by departing Western powers.

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