Do you know how big the United States actually is? What about Russia? Or Greenland? Even if you think you know, you might not—because the map you’re using is probably incorrect. The world map most of us are most familiar with and use most often is called the Mercator Projection. Created in 1569 by cartographer Gerardus Mercator, this map was revolutionary in its time. However, like all maps, it also had to overcome a very fundamental problem: maps are flat, but the Earth is a sphere.
Mapmakers have devised several different map-rendering techniques to try to account for this difference in basic geometries. The problem is, none of them are quite perfect. In the case of the Mercator projection, for example, land masses near the equator are the correct shape and size—but as you move closer to the north or south pole, land masses start to stretch and warp unnaturally.
Greenland is the most obvious example. On the Mercator projection, it’s shown to be the same size as Africa. In reality, Africa is 14 times larger than Greenland. Neil Kaye, a climate data scientist at the United Kingdom’s national weather service, the Met Office, created an animation to depict the true size of each country in comparison to the Mercator projections. Thanks to its relatively temperate latitude, the world’s sixth-largest country by land area, Australia, stays relatively the same size throughout the animation. The same cannot be said of Russia, Canada, China, or the United States, which all shrink considerably when moved closer to the equator. The animation enables viewers to discover interesting facts such as:
- Chile is twice the size of Norway
- Iceland fits into Madagascar about five and a half times
- Thailand is twice the size of the United Kingdom
Kaye also has an illustration showing the true size of the countries overlaid with Mercator’s projections of each of them. As seen in this map, Mercator had Antarctica taking up almost as much land mass as the rest of the continents. Additionally, Canada and Russia appear to occupy about 25% of the Earth’s surface but only take up about 5% in reality. If you want to see the actual size of the world’s countries, this animated map enables you to search, drag, and drop countries to see their true size and compare them to each other. For a full list of countries in the world and their rank by total area, see below.