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I recently read somewhere that there are some countries in the world are actually larger than they are shown on the world map. For eg. Somalia is significantly larger than it is shown on the map and Congo is almost as the same size as India. Is this true ? Are they just shown smaller due to some calculations related to projections or are they actually larger in size and there is some geopolitics behind it ?

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    There is no political reason. It's just projections as you say. And I wouldn't say countries "are shown smaller" but countries closer to the poles appear larger on maps whereas those closer to the equator don't.
    – Roland
    Aug 3 at 5:10
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    This question is not about politics but about geography and how to best map a spherical surface on a plane, so maybe also about math.
    – Trilarion
    Aug 3 at 6:43
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    India: 3.28 million km² Congo (DRC) 2.35 million km². When you say "The World Map", which one do you mean? Here are a few: xkcd.com/977 Please pick one.
    – James K
    Aug 3 at 8:15
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    Literally speaking, I think that there is no map anywhere that is larger than the smallest country, so every country is shown smaller than its real size. It would be more precise to ask about relative size.
    – phoog
    Aug 3 at 13:30
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    While the existence of different map projections is a consequence of the fact that the Earth is a sphere and its surface can't be exactly represented on a flat (non-curved) surface - and therefore not political - the choice of projection made in this or that map certainly might be political. Whether the fact that Mercator projection enjoys the status of being the "default" projection that we are all used to seeing has a political dimension or not is I think, something that reasonable people can disagree on.
    – Hammerite
    Aug 3 at 14:52

3 Answers 3

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Yes

The Earth is round, and it is not possible to project a flat map such that all countries retain the same area as they originally are. If this influences your political thinking, use a globe.

Commonly countries close to the North and South poles are depicted larger. Especially Greenland is depicted almost as big as Australia that is actually not true.

The relative size of countries also depends on the chosen projection of the map, so it may be possible to use it for subtle propaganda, by systematically using some projection with known distortions.

Here we see the Cahill–Keyes projection that aims to reduce these distortions (image credit). The size of some countries is, indeed, very different from that we usually envision.

world map using Cahill-Keyes projection

The USA even has the specialized GS50 projection to show all its states with as little distortion as possible. It is a complex projection, produced using high order polynomials.

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    Note that you can of course have projections where areas are faithfully reporduced (see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equal-area_map). The price to pay is increased distortions, so you have to choose what projection is appropriate for your purpose.
    – Toffomat
    Aug 3 at 13:14
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It's just because the earth is a sphere being transformed onto a rectangular view using the Mercator Projection. With this projection, countries near the poles seem a lot larger than they actually are.

enter image description here

This is a geographical, not really a political question

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  • WOW, both "superpowers" shrink notably!
    – Stančikas
    Aug 3 at 6:54
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    Land mass != political power, anyway. See: the British Empire, @Stančikas. Regardless, "superpower" refers to influence, not size. Aug 3 at 8:53
  • @fyrepenguin of course. But it's still remarkable to see.
    – phoog
    Aug 3 at 13:32
  • @Stančikas To confirm what has been said in these comments, The U.S. is either the 2nd, 3rd or 4th largest country depending on how you take measure (there is more land area than Canada, but there is more total area, which includes territorial waters and lakes. It is smaller than China if you ask the Chinese, but larger than China if you ask anyone with who disputed territory claims with China... which is a lot of China's neighbors). In terms of population, it is third, behind China and India, but the map won't show that.
    – hszmv
    Aug 3 at 14:39
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    Map projection discussions and controversies are very political. See en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gall%E2%80%93Peters_projection
    – eps
    Aug 3 at 18:57
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Are they just shown smaller due to some calculations related to projections or are they actually larger in size and there is some geopolitics behind it ?

Most world-maps we see use the Mercator projection. This was initially popular because it had properties that were extremely useful to ship's navigators in the age of wooden sailing ships (and beyond). In particular I believe a straight line on a Mercator map corresponds closely to a constant compass course (if we ignore magnetic anomalies, declination etc) - So a navigator can use a ruler to draw a line to a destination port and use a protractor to read the direction the helmsman should steer (after adjusting for currents, wind etc).

This usefulness led to the popularity of this particular projection.

Nowadays it's use is generally unjustified and for most purposes there are better projections we should be using instead. Most of these other projections provide a much better indication of the comparative size of countries.

In the age of computers and GPS, most of us no longer need a map whose primary usefulness is for plotting courses with pencils, protractors and magnetic compasses.

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  • To say that Mercator projection was useful "in the age of wooden sailing ships" is to suggest that navigation using paper charts has been obsolete since that period of history ended. While that mode of navigation is (arguably) obsolete in the modern world, it's not been obsolete for quite as long as all that.
    – Hammerite
    Aug 3 at 14:41
  • I'd also nitpick the statement that there are "better projections". This only makes sense if you assume a particular purpose. There aren't better or worse projections, only projections that are more or less suited to a purpose. Certainly if the purpose you have in mind is visualising the relative sizes of countries, the Mercator projection is an extremely poor choice.
    – Hammerite
    Aug 3 at 14:44
  • @Hammerite, when I wrote that I did briefly consider whether I needed to state that its usefulness endured beyond that. I didn't think anyone would draw the conclusion you indicate. Nevertheless, I'll add some intrusive weasel words (: to clarify. Aug 3 at 14:45

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