Yes, maps can be deceptive. The standard maps we see every day use Mercator Projection, a cylindrical map projection presented by the Flemish geographer and cartographer Gerardus Mercator in 1569. It was developed for navigational purposes and has often been used in world maps. But, like all the other types of projections, it can be deceptive.

In fact, every map tells lie, since it’s impossible to transform perfectly the three-dimensional world into two-dimensional surfaces like paper or computer screens.

Map projections are necessary for creating maps and every map projections distort the surface in some fashion (a map projection is a systematic transformation of the latitudes and longitudes of locations on the surface of a sphere or an ellipsoid into locations on a plane).

Every map projection introduces distortion, and each has its own set of problems.

Maps can be deceptive: Australia - Greenland overlay
The Mercator projection portrays Greenland as larger than Australia; in actuality, Australia is more than three and a half times larger than Greenland.

One measure of a map’s accuracy is a comparison of the length of corresponding line elements on the map and globe. Therefore, by construction, the Mercator projection is perfectly accurate, k=1, along with the equator and nowhere else.

At a latitude of ±25°, the value of sec φ is about 1.1 and therefore the projection may be deemed accurate to within 10% in a strip of width 50° centered on the equator. Narrower strips are better: sec 8°=1.01, so a strip of width 16° (centered on the equator) is accurate to within 1% or 1 part in 100.

Similarly, sec 2.56°=1.001, so a strip of width 5.12° (centered on the equator) is accurate to within 0.1% or 1 part in 1,000. Therefore the Mercator projection is adequate for mapping countries close to the equator.

But the Mercator projection is not completely unsuccessful. The projection preserves “true compass bearings between any two points” and that’s why it has become a standard in nautical navigation. While sacrificing the size, it’s actually a really useful projection for navigation and keeping the correct shape of countries.

Maps can be deceptive: Mercator projection
The Mercator projection shows courses of constant bearing as straight lines.

For some fun facts about the world maps using the Mercator Projection, you can watch the video below.

Maps that prove you don’t really know Earth

Watch: how maps can be deceptive

Another beautiful video on the same subject, titled “How the World Map Looks Wildly Different Than You Think”, was published by the RealLifeLore channel.

How the World Map looks wildly different than you think.
All of us have seen a world map at some point in our lives before, but it is very difficult to imagine how certain countries and parts of the world compare to each other in size that is far apart. In this video, we explore why the world looks very different than how it is portrayed in the Mercator Projection map. We then go on to explore how certain countries are unexpectedly larger or smaller than what they appear to be, and how some places look wildly different than our perceptions.
PS; Don’t totally hate on the Mercator Projection, it’s actually a really useful map for navigation and on keeping the correct shape of countries while sacrificing the size that we can all laugh about!
The music is by Ross Bugden.
Maps can be deceptive: True size of Russia over Africa
The true sizes of China (orange), the United States (light blue), and Russia (dark blue) over Africa. This image is produced by using the True Size Tool. Note that Russia is actually much smaller than it is shown in the Mercator projection.


M. Özgür Nevres
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