Size of Africa

I have noticed two rounds of posting about the real size of Africa.  The most recent is link to a Washington Post piece on it.  Usually the link will mention that there was a clip on this issue on the West Wing which is this:

The problem comes from using a projection to display a globe on flat surface.  Based on where you pick the center of the flat map, you are going to have distortions at the edges, we are most familiar with the Mercator projection which distorts the map away from the equator.  The further from the equator that more distortion (appearing larger) you will have.

The Peters projection is known as an equal area projection, but it distorts distances from north to south.  As Africa sits right over the equator, it has the least amount of distortion with Mercator, which keeps it closer to the true size, and appears smaller than it should compared to areas further from the equator.  So the Peters projection is the best choice on a flat map to put Africa in its proper place, a much larger continent than you think when you see the more common Mercator projection.

The problem with these maps is they do a poor job of depicting Great Circles.  If you really want to be geographically literate with the world and all the different places in the world and how they relate and interact with other places, you need a globe.  The most notable example of this in our life, is the air routes from USA to Asia and Europe.  Looking at this video you can see much of the traffic to Asia curves north to Alaska before curving back south to Asia.  Same for the trans-atlantic routes that curve northward too.

-Josh