IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO ‘project’ a flat map that preserves the shapes, angles and areas seen on a globe. Cartographers must choose which of these properties are most important for any particular projection. Navigational charts, for example, prefer projections that preserve angles and shapes because this makes it easier to identify routes. An example is the projection of 16th-century Flemish globemaker Gerardus Mercator, which became the standard for world wall maps displaying continental land masses – and is still the most widely used today. Unfortunately, although comparative areas on a Mercator Projection are reasonably accurate in equatorial regions, they are less so towards the poles.The result is widespread confusion about comparative sizes of some countries. Greenland on a Mercator map, for example, looks about the same size as Africa but you could, in fact, fit 14 Greenland-sized countries into the area covered by the African continent.
A truer comparison of relative country sizes requires an ‘equal-area map projection’.The illustration above has been created using the Lambert azimuthal equal-area projection, which maintains relative sizes of different countries, with the methodology adapted to preserve shapes so countries look familiar. Using this approach reveals that most of Europe could fit into Australia (see above) with room for Japan and New Zealand as well.