Finally, a World Map That Doesn’t Lie

By Nathaniel Scharping | November 3, 2016 2:25 pm
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The AuthaGraph world map.

Our maps have been lying to us for centuries.

The standard classroom maps we all learned geography from are based on the Mercator projection, a 16th century rendering that preserved lines used for navigation while hideously distorting the true sizes of continents and oceans further from the equator. The result is a widespread misconception that Greenland is as big as Africa, Siberia and Canada are disproportionally massive, and that Antarctica apparently just goes on forever.

mercator_projection_sw

(Credit: Daniel R. Strebe/Wikimedia Commons)

In reality though, Africa is larger than all of North America, and the Antarctic is about as big as Australia. That’s the difficulty with stretching a sphere to fit a rectangle, and for centuries cartographers have struggled to balance maintaining straight latitudinal lines with the preservation of perspective. But the AuthaGraph may be the pinnacle of accuracy. 

No Accurate Maps

For centuries, cartographers have made numerous attempts to account for the inconsistency. Maps are compromises between distorting the angles of latitude and longitude lines and the relative areas of the continents and oceans. Some were made for specific purposes, while others just tried to find the cartographic sweet spot. The problem was so widespread that a French mathematician even developed an eponymous equation to quantify the degree of distortion that a map experienced. Called Tissot’s indicatrix, the equation takes the form of circles placed at regular intervals across a map. By calculating how much each circle deforms, it is possible to determine how much the map is pulling and stretching the continents out of shape at that point.

Here are a few of the different ways cartographers have tried to depict the Earth.

Sinusoidal Projection: This map bowed out the equator in an attempt to replicate the topography of a sphere and avoid stretching out areas far from the equator. It succeeds in presenting a more accurate view of the poles, but at the cost of misshapen continents and bent meridians. Areas near both the equator and prime meridian are accurate, but the distortion gets worse the further you go from either.

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(Credit: Daniel R. Strebe/Wikimedia Commons)

Robinson Projection: This attempt at creating a faithful world map took a similar tack to the Sinusoidal by pulling out the edges of the map to mimic a sphere. The Robinson isn’t as extreme, however, taking the form of a much more gentle oval. The map was an attempt at a compromise between distorting the areas of continents and the angles of coordinate line. It was used by both Rand McNally and the National Geographic Society at one point.

300px-robinson_projection_sw

(Credit: Daniel R. Strebe/Wikimedia Commons)

Bonne Projection: A more outside-of-the-box example of mapmaking ingenuity, the Bonne Projection actually dates back to the 16th century. The heart shape preserves integrity near the center, but gets progressively more unrealistic as it moves outward. Keeping the focus on Europe and Africa means that most areas of interest to early cartographers were rendered nearly accurately, although Australia does suffer some unfortunate stretching.

bonne_projection_sw

(Credit: Daniel R. Strebe/Wikimedia Commons)

Armadillo Projection: This map attempts a kind of 3-D simulation by projecting the map onto a torus. This keeps the continents in decent shape while causing the oceans to appear smaller, and cutting off half of Australia and all of New Zealand. As with other maps, the tops and sides suffer from the most distortion.

armadillo_projection_sw

(Credit: Daniel R. Strebe/Wikimedia Commons)

Do We Have A Winner?

We may finally have a faithful flat map, however. The 2016 winner of Japan’s prestigious Good Design, designers figured out how to translate our spherical world into a rectangular box. Hajime Narukawa, a Tokyo-based architect and artist, broke the globe up into 96 regions and folded it into a tetrahedron and then a pyramid before finally flattening it into a two-dimensional sheet. The multi-step process preserves the true dimensions of the continents by angling them outward instead of stretching them, maintaining the illusion that they’re all laid out vertically like we’re used to. Their website states that the goal was to create map better suited to address the problems of the 21st century, including rapidly diminishing sea ice and territorial claims of marine territory, by more accurately depicting what areas near pole actually look like.

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Called the AuthaGraph, the result is a map that looks a little different that most of us are used to. Seen in rectangular form, Antarctica is intact and at the bottom right.

The Americas and Africa are tilted inward and pushed to the upper corners of the map, while Australia sits perfectly upright at the bottom center. The lines of latitude and longitude veer in odd directions, the result of transformations that broke them from their naturally spherical configuration. Most importantly, the continents are all rendered as they actually appear. Africa has regained its geographic primacy while North America and Europe are shrunk back to their true sizes. The oceans, too, are finally represented accurately. By breaking longstanding rules governing how the continents and lines of latitude and longitude should appear, Narukawa has achieved a geographically accurate depiction of Earth.

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This would make awesome bathroom tiles.

His projection can even be tessellated to create a never-ending sequence of continents laid out next to each other. You can even buy an origami version of his map composed of tiny segments separated by seams that folds from a globe to a sheet and back again.

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The path of the International Space Station, as mapped over a tessellation of Narukawa’s world map.

Narukawa says that his map is not quite accurate yet — some regions are slightly distorted. He hopes to perform even more subdivisions of his globe to achieve truly accurate representations of the continents.

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  • OWilson

    You can always tell who is the most powerful country in the world by the maps.

    Greece, Rome, all once were the center of the world.

    For years, it was the English speaking world that put England at the heart of it all.

    Now it’s Russia, China, and America at the center of the world.

    Which is about right! :)

    • Tomás Gonçalves de Moura

      I actually see a big ocean in the middle… maybe it is Atlantis!

    • Cajun Exile

      I would like to see the map that has Russia, China, and America at the center of the world…

      • OWilson

        Really?

        The subject of the article is the new AuthaGraph map, the first photo, referred to as the “winner”.

        That map shows Russia, China and America in the most central position, of all major land masses.

        But. maybe it’s just me. :)

        • Cajun Exile

          I think its just you…:0)

          I did not visualize it that way but in looking back at it I can see how one could… :0)

          I think the author of the AuthaGraph map has secretly invested in land futures in Siberia and Brazil.

          • OWilson

            Countless schoolchildren looked at the old familiar world map and wondered if Africa and America seemed to fit like a jigsaw puzzle.

            “Alfred Wegener first thought of this idea (Continental Drift) by noticing that the different large landmasses of the Earth almost fit together like a jigsaw puzzle”. – Wiki

            Might have taken a while longer to come up with that theory if the AuthaGraphic map had been available, and in wide use.

          • Sven_Golly

            I was about to post the exact same thought! Without the wiki reference though. I happened to reload and your post was there. Great minds…

          • OWilson

            Not necessarily :)

            I’m losing big time with my observation that America, Russia and China occupy the center of the new map.

            What I am missing? :)

        • Sven_Golly

          In the top-most image of the article, above the page title, I see Japan as the center-most major country. I will leave that to others to decide the accuracy of my observation and/or its implications because this comes from a Japanese competition.

          • OWilson

            Resolved!

            The Bering Strait, between Russia and America is central.

          • Sven_Golly

            Since compass points don’t seem to be relevant to this map, it would seem that any point could be centered, and any direction placed at the top, and then you simply shift the grid to match that. But what do I know I’m just an ostrich.

    • 7eggert

      Being powerful will make you print more maps and you’ll put yourself into the center (others will just use the most common kind of maps if appropriate), but also the pacific ocean is the most convenient place to draw a line from north to south without splitting a continent.

      • OWilson

        Indeed. Great Britain put itself firmly at the center of things with its arbitrary zero degrees of longitude than ran through London.

        You were always East or West from Greenwich.

        Even set the world’s clock, GMT. :)

    • R C

      Actually, Authagraph is a Japanese Company and you can see how therefore Japan is the center of the world. And universe…

  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

    Is that really Brazil? Otherwise, wow!

    A Euclidean triangle’s three interior angles sum to exactly 180°. This is better than true – it’s Euclid’s Fifth Postulate. (One parallel line through a point not on a given line is its dual.) No Earth’s surface triangle can contain as few as 180°, and 540° is trivial. All Euclidean maps of Earth’s surface must be distorted, folded, or cut.

    Geometry must be banned by law and violent enforcement. Projection of a double-curved Semitic face onto a flat linen sheet without distortion is inescapable fraud – the Shroud of Turin.

  • Brian Kern

    How about we just give people a proper education so they understand that it’s impossible to render a 3d image as 2d without introducing distortion. Then maybe we won’t have to come up with stupid clickbait article titles.

  • Sven_Golly

    I’d love to see a compass rose, the equator and both tropic lines added to this.

  • Lorie Franceschi

    Brazil looks bigger than both the USA and China and just about the same size as Canada. this map may be the next great idea in maps, but needs to be worked on a little bit more as Canada, China and USA are all larger in square miles than Brazil.

  • boonteetan

    Projecting a 3-D curved surface to a 2-D flat sheet exactly would be a near impossible job. The most accurate world map (only when compared to others) is still not exact. Protruding Brazil seems rather awkward if not over-sized.

  • Analyzer_1

    I think I’ll just stick with a globe.

  • jimoppenheimer

    Do globes reflect the earth accurately? If so, why not do our global thinking with globes, our small-scale stuff only with maps?

    Today, it’s so easy to have some CGI that shows the globe, we should be able to make that happen in almost any articulate discussion of global events, so that there is no need for a wall map anymore.

    • Rick Stoneking Sr

      Just like E-books, some people just prefer to hold a real book in their hands. I am one of them. So as you might expect, I want to always have the wall map. Call me one dimensional I guess. LOL

      • Eric J Morris

        I love maps also, but sometimes prefer to hold a real spherical world globe in my hands. Call me three dimensional (or a sphere-head) I guess.

        • Sagar Apshankar

          But the earth isn’t a perfect sphere either. Shall we call you egg-head?

          • Eric J Morris

            Nah.. I prefer spherehead. The Earth is much closer to being perfectly spherical than egg-shaped. BTW, why do we capitalize EVERY other place (and planet) name, except that of our own home planet, Earth?

          • Sandra Horn

            “Earth” is capitalized when we speak of it as a planet, as you have done. In that case, Earth is its proper name, same as Saturn, Mars, etc. “Earth” is not capitalized when we refer to the ground beneath our feet, just as we don’t capitalize “sidewalk” or “street”. “Street” IS capitalized when it is part of a name, though, like Main Street. So it all depends on how “earth” is used.

      • Chia-P

        1-dimentional? You mean 2-dimensional?

    • Doug in Illinois

      This summer I traveled to Svalbard, waaay north of Norway. It is at 78-79 degrees north, a good 700-800 miles from the north pole. Today I looked at Svalbard on one of the older globes in my house. It is so far north that it barely shows on the map, and is essentially covered by the metal ring at the top of the globe. So NO, it is not a given that globes represent the earth accurately either.

  • Twylight Seven

    Amazing.

  • Chrysta Lou R Rodriguez

    Try this instead, make more sense.

  • Rick Stoneking Sr

    This map still distorts the map of the world. But it does so in a geopolitical sense. It shows it from the perspective that focuses first on the Asian continent showing it on the left, instead of showing the the North and South American continents on the left as everyone is used to seeing on all other maps.

    For the sake of uniformity, backward compatibility in software language, he should show the North and South American continents on the left as people are used to seeing, instead of this politically motivated map. Until he does, I will stick with what we already are accustomed to seeing.

    Rick Stoneking Sr
    Owner/Founder
    #InternationalTravelReviews

  • Gavin the Tiger

    Antartica looks so big that it’s scary.

    Two other errors in the Mercator Projection:

    1 – The United Kingdom looks about 4.5 times bigger than Ireland. It is only about 2.5 times the size in reality. Ireland is rather overall unchanged on the Mercator Projection.

    2 – Norway has a length comparable to that of Australia’s. Australia’s is quite a bit longer in reality. Norway’s length is only about 75% of that of the United States.

  • http://twitter.com/okolikon колись було
  • Striker333

    AuthaMap: 1 Flat map: 0

  • Stevek

    This is shocking and there’s only one thing to do … start colonizing again immediately.

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