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The World’s Largest Megaprojects

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Before a megaproject gets the nod to go ahead, a very unique set of circumstances must first be considered.

There is no blueprint or shortcut for building a world-changing megaproject. In fact, each one must be designed and built from the ground up, often amidst considerable amounts of red tape and criticism. Builders of megaprojects embrace the unknown, even when faced with incredible amounts of risk and massive cost overruns.

At the same time, successful megaprojects can accomplish things that have never been done before. They can be pinnacles of human achievement, and spectacles such as the International Space Station and the U.S. Interstate Highway System have already changed the world.

The World’s Largest Megaprojects

This infographic from Futurism details nine of the world’s largest megaprojects currently in construction.

They range from giant $64 billion theme parks (Dubailand) to massive canals that will take 48 years to build (South-North Water Transfer Project in China).

The World's Largest Megaprojects

Here are the nine largest megaprojects in construction right now, in order from most to least expensive:

1. International Space Station – $150 billion (as of 2010)
The most expensive single item ever built. Expansions beyond 2020 are estimated to eventually cost $1 trillion.

2. Al Maktoum International Airport – $82 billion
This airport in Dubai will be fully operational by 2018. It will be the world’s largest in terms of size and passenger volume – so big that four jets will be able to land simultaneously.

3. South-to-North Water Transfer Project – $78 billion (as of 2014)
Thought the Three Gorges Dam was massive? This other Chinese megaproject is already nearly three times as expensive – it aims to divert water from the Yangtze River using three huge canals to bring it to the north of the country.

4. California High-Speed Rail – $70 billion
Spanning 1,300 km (808 mi), this will link San Francisco to Los Angeles.

5. Dubailand – $64 billion
This mega theme park project will open in 2025 in Dubai. It will also have the world’s largest hotel (6,500 rooms), sports venues, eco-tourism, science attractions, and a giant mall.

6. London Crossrail Project – $23 billion
London is expanding its underground system, with 42 km (26 mi) of new tunnels to connect 40 stations. Everything will be complete by 2020.

7. Beijing Daxing International Airport – $13 billion
Opening in 2025, this airport megaproject will have seven runways and the largest terminal in the world. It will help ease the load on nearby Beijing Capital International Airport.

8. Jubail II – $11 billion
The second phase of development of the Jubail Industrial City in Saudi Arabia will add 100 industrial plants, an oil refinery, and one of the bigger desalination plants in the world.

9. Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge – $10.6 billion
A series of bridges and undersea tunnels to link the three major cities on the Pearl River Delta in China. Ultimately, it will be 50 km (31 mi) of links, opening sometime beyond 2021.

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Misc

These Powerful Maps Show the Extremes of U.S. Population Density

The U.S. population is spread across a huge amount of land, but its distribution is far from equal. These maps are a unique look at population density

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us cities population density equivalent map

America’s 328 million people are spread across a huge amount of territory, but the population density of various regions is far from equal.

It’s no secret that cities like New York have a vastly different population density than, say, a rural county in North Dakota. Even so, this interactive map by Ben Blatt of Slate helps visualize the stark contrast between urban and rural densities in a way that might intrigue you.

How many counties does it take to equal the population of these large urban areas? Let’s find out.

New York City’s Rural Equivalent

New York City (proper) Population: 8.42 million
New York City Population density: 27,547 persons / mi²

New York City became the largest city in the U.S. back in 1781 and has long been the country’s most densely packed urban center. Today, 1 in every 38 people living in the United States resides in The Big Apple.

new york city population density equivalent map

For the northwestern counties above to match the population of New York City, it takes a land area around the size of Mongolia. The region shown above is 645,934 mi², and runs through portions of 12 different states.

In order to match the population of the entire New York metropolitan area, which holds 18 million people and includes adjacent cities and towns in New York state, New Jersey, and Connecticut, the above equivalent area would have to be even more massive.

Los Angeles County’s Rural Equivalent

LA County Population: 10.04 million
LA County Population density: 2,100 persons / mi²

Los Angeles County is home to the 88 incorporated cities that make up the urban area of Los Angeles.

Even excluding nearby population centers such as Anaheim, San Bernadino, and Riverside (which are located in adjacent counties) it is still the most populous county in the United States, with over 10 million inhabitants.

los angeles county population density equivalent map

To match this enormous scale in Middle America, it would take 298 counties covering an area of 471,941 mi².

Chicago’s Rural Equivalent

Chicago Metropolitan Area Population: 9.53 million
Chicago Metropolitan Area Population density: 1,318 persons / mi²

Next up is America’s third largest city, Chicago. For this visualization, we’re using the Chicago metropolitan area, which covers the full extent of the city’s population.

chicago population density equivalent map

To match the scale of the population of the Windy City, we would need to add up every county in New Mexico, along with large portions of Colorado, Arizona, and Texas.

Turning the Tables?

Conversely, what if we transported the people in the country’s least densely populated counties into the middle of an urban center?

RankCountyPopulation
1Kalawao County, Hawaii86
2Loving County, Texas169
3King County, Texas272
4Kenedy County, Texas404
5Arthur County, Nebraska463

As it turns out, the total population of the five least populated counties is just 1,394—roughly the same amount of people that live on the average Manhattan block.

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Misc

Visualized: Comparing the Titanic to a Modern Cruise Ship

The sheer size of the Titanic was a sight to behold in 1912, but over 100 years later, how does this vessel compare to a modern cruise ship?

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Remembering the Tragedy of the Titanic

When the Titanic was completed on April 2, 1912, it was the largest and perhaps most luxurious ship in the world. The vessel could hold over 3,300 people including crew members, and boasted various amenities including a swimming pool and squash court.

The Titanic’s impressive size attracted many of the world’s wealthiest individuals, and on April 10, 1912, it set out on its maiden voyage. Just five days later, the ship sank after hitting an iceberg, resulting in more than 1,500 deaths.

It’s been over 100 years since the Titanic’s demise, so how have passenger ships evolved?

To find out, we’ve visualized it beside Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas, currently the world’s largest cruise ship.

The Size of the Titanic, in Perspective

The following table lists the dimensions of both ships to provide a better understanding of the Titanic’s relative size.

 RMS TitanicSymphony of the Seas
Year Built19122018
Length882ft (269m) 1,184ft (361m)
Width92ft (28m)215ft (66m)
Height175ft (53m)238ft (73m)
Internal volume46,328 gross register tonnage (grt)228,081 gross tonnage (gt)
Passengers2,4356,680
Crew8922,200

Source: Owlcation, Insider
Note: Gross register tonnage (grt) is a historic measure of a ship’s internal volume. This metric was replaced by gross tonnage (gt) on July 18, 1982.

One of the biggest differences between these two ships is width, with the latter being more than twice as wide. This is likely due to the vast amenities housed within the Symphony of the Seas, which includes 24 pools, 22 restaurants, 2 rock climbing walls, an ice-skating rink, and more. With accommodations for 6,680 passengers, the Symphony of the Seas also supports a crew that is 147% larger.

The Symphony of the Seas clearly surpasses the Titanic in terms of size, but there’s also a substantial difference in cost. When converted to today’s dollars, the bill for the Titanic equates to roughly $400 million, less than half of the Symphony of the Seas’ cost of $1.35 billion.

Lessons Learned from the Disaster

Inadequate safety preparations were a contributor to the Titanic’s high death toll. During its journey, the vessel carried enough lifeboats to accommodate just 33% of its total passengers and crew. This was legal at the time, as regulations based a ship’s number of required lifeboats on its weight, rather than its passenger capacity.

To make matters worse, investigations determined that the Titanic’s lifeboats had not been used to their full capacity, and that a scheduled lifeboat drill had been cancelled by the ship’s captain. These shortfalls, among others, paved the way for numerous improvements in maritime safety regulation.

These include the creation of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea Treaty (SOLAS) in 1914, which is still in force today. Regarded as the most important international treaty on ship safety, SOLAS has been updated numerous times and is followed by 164 states, which together flag 99% of merchant ships (by gross tonnage) on the high seas today.

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