How the Mercator Projection Won the Internet

OpenStreetMap, using Web Mercator, all zoomed out

I’ve said it before: if you want to start a fight among cartographers, ask them what their favourite map projection is. Earlier this week I did just that: I felt mischievous and wanted to try out Twitter’s polling feature, so I ran a poll asking my Map Room followers what the best projection for world maps was. And because I was feeling particularly mischievous, I made sure to include both the often-reviled Mercator projection and its antithesis, the Peters projection, rounding out the list with two less controversial choices: the Winkel tripel projection used by National Geographic, and the brand-new Patterson projection announced late last year.

The results of the poll were utterly unexpected: 42 percent chose the Mercator projection.

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Mercator Puzzle

Mercator Puzzle (screenshot)

The Mercator Puzzle is an excellent way to visualize the distortions inherent in the Mercator projection, which conserves angles (useful for navigation) by exaggerating size at the poles (problematic in virtually every other use). Click and drag the countries in this in-browser app to see just how dramatically larger or smaller they become as you move them closer to and further away from the poles. [Boing Boing]

Previously: Review: Rhumb Lines and Map Wars; Reversing the Mercator Effect.

The Patterson Projection

Patterson Projection

Map projections are inherently interesting, and also a great way to start a fight among a group of cartographers: just ask them their favourite and step back. Everyone has their preferred projection, me included, that fits their own needs and aesthetic. Cartographer Tom Patterson, whose work I’ve featured previously on The Map Room, has added another projection to the mix, the eponymous Patterson Projection, a cylindrical projection which “falls between the popular Miller 1, which excessively exaggerates the size of polar areas, and the Plate Carrée, which compressess the north-south dimension of mid latitudes.” It looks like a compromise projection in cylindrical form. A full article on the design and development of the projection is forthcoming at the link.

Previously: Shaded Relief World Map and Flex Projector; New, Free Physical Map of the United States; Shaded Relief.