November 4th: The True Size of Africa

I have come to realize something this past week, something  I am a bit embarrassed to say I hadn’t known or put any thought to in the past. The continents and their size. And how this in turn affects my own perspective of the world.

When asked what the world looks like, how many of you thought of this? I sure do!


But what if this isn’t what the world actually looks like?

Have you ever thought of the world like this before?

upside down

The first time I saw the ‘upside down’ map, I was in New Zealand and thought it was just a gimmick sold in souvenir shops. Now as I am writing this blog post about the world and our perspectives, I don’t know about you, but I find it to be quite jarring. Because the more I think about it, the more I realize my initial worldview (picture 1) was just learned perspective. It also made me think of what implications this perspective has on the world. Considering the majority of the developed countries are found on the top and most of the developing countries are found on the bottom part of the map.

Interestingly the more I dug around, looking up the ‘upside down ‘ map I found out that the original ‘Blue Marble’ photo taken from Apollo 17 originally featured the Southern Hemisphere on the top. You can see madagascar is located in the top left corner of the original photo.

blue marble

If that didn’t give me enough to think of, I ran into this map:

peters map

My first thought: holy smokes, Africa is WAY bigger than I normally picture it to be. This is a Peters map, Compared to the traditional Mercator map (circa 1569). The Mercator map is still used in many schools today). The Mercator’s projection  was created at a time when navigators were sailing on the oceans and navigating by the stars it was a useful tool because the straight lines were lines of constant compass bearing. Today the Mercator projection still remains useful for navigational purposes and is referred to by seafarers and airline pilots. The problem with the Mercator map is it creates increasing distortions of size as you move away from the equator. As you get closer to the poles the distortion becomes severe.

So how big IS Africa then? On a Mercator projection map Greenland appears to be the same size as Africa, yet Africa’s land mass is actually fourteen times larger!


So I ask myself again, how how big IS Africa? I found this set of maps created using using Gall’s Stereographic Cylindrical Projection (1855) with two standard parallels at 45°N and 45°S. This is an “equal area” projection that shows the countries’ areas correctly while minimising shape distortion. These two properties are the hardest to balance when showing the whole world on one map. While this map still does show some distortions at the poles, but most countries’ shapes are maintained, and their areas are shown correctly.


I know how different Newfoundlanders are to Albertans because land has a way of separating cultures even though they are within the same country, with the same language and a federal government. This helps me to realize how big Africa really is, by placing me in a better mind frame to understand that Africa as large as it is, made of different countries. So it is no surprise that Ghanaians will be significantly different from Malawians. A the millions of other differences that can be listed for the African continent.


4 responses to “November 4th: The True Size of Africa

  1. What a great post! The bit about Greenland had me perplexed. Thanks for giving me a big jolt and a new perspective on this Tuesday morning.


  2. Awesome research! Thank you for sharing this great information. I’ve learned all this but never thought. Out the size of Greenland compare to Africa. Very cool.


  3. Very interesting thinking on why poeple can be so different is a same country : it is so big ! It is hard for people to visualise that ( often my family in France ask me why dont you go to Vancouver for few days ? well travelling to Vancouver is nearly as long as coming back to Paris ! and for sure people don’t think about that it is the same country !) so thanks a lot to have spend time to think of a way of trying to add some visuals behind this fact !


  4. Reblogged this on Reach Forward and commented:
    A friend of mine is working on a WatSan (water and Sanitation) project in Malawi. Her blog has some insightful pieces (like this one on the real size of Africa) which are reader friendly and are good for getting the brain thinking! Be sure to check it out. (Safe travels Megan!)


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