When it comes to the subject of world maps, most people will almost immediately think of the Mercator projection map. Most people don’t even know that this iconic map of the world, which has found its way into books, school libraries, and even television news programs, even has a name. Indeed, the Mercator projection map has become widely accepted as the ‘official’ world map. What most people don’t realize or haven’t put much thought into, however, is that maps are merely two-dimensional renderings of the three-dimensional world they live in. Since the world is three-dimensional, projecting the spherical image of Earth on a flat surface will cause distortion of some sort. This is also perhaps the reason that people take very well to the Mercator projection map: it depicts a seemingly proportional Earth at first glance. The Mercator projection map was designed by Flemish cartographer and geographer Gerardus Mercato in 1569. This edition measured six and a half feet by four feet and was printed on 18 separate sheets. The 1569 Mercator world map was only as accurate as can be expected for the time period. However, the map proved valuable for seafaring navigators and it is still well in use today for navigational purposes. The east-to-west and north-to-south lines on a Mercator map are straight, which makes for inaccurate renderings of some geographical features. Areas that are far from the equator are rendered far larger than they actually are. For example, it will appear on a Mercator projection map that Antarctica has a landmass that can wrap around the entire globe. Regardless of the inaccuracies in geographical renderings, the straight lines in a Mercator map provided a solution for early seafarers in charting their bearings across oceans. Despite being a major breakthrough in cartography, the Mercator projection map was too advanced when it was first presented in the 1500s. The map had very little use given the existing techniques in sea navigation, as well as the nautical technology in the era. It wasn’t until the 1700s, when the first marine chronometer was developed and when more knowledge was gained about polar magnetic declination, that the Mercator projection proved very useful for sea navigators. The straight lines in a Mercator map provides seafaring navigators with directional points from which they can determine the degree of the compass angles in the direction they need to set sail. For example, if a ship needs to sail from Brazil to Portugal, the navigator only needs to draw a straight line from Brazil to Portugal, determine its degree on the compass, and then set sail towards that bearing. It is virtually impossible to render a three-dimensional object onto a flat surface. Since Earth is a sphere, there are bound to be distortions in its interpretation on a two-dimensional plane. The Mercator map is a cylindrical projection map with constant bearing lines, which causes the geographical interpretations to expand the further it gets from the equator. This expansion causes some geographical features up north to appear much larger than they actually are. Greenland is the most often criticized interpretation on a Mercator map. This is because Greenland appears to be as large as Africa when in reality it is 14 times smaller than that continent. Apart from nautical use, it would seem as if the Mercator projection map was hardly of any help for other purposes. Despite the distortions in the sizes of landmass that far north of the equator, Mercator projection maps are still being used for other applications such as free online mapping systems. Street mapping applications such as MapQuest and Google Maps still use the Mercator projection map because of its practicality. The Mercator perspective retains the true shape of any landmass on the map regardless of scale or resolution. This allows for users to zoom in and out of a map seamlessly and makes the street-level view of the map as realistic as possible. There have been attempts in the past to disallow the use of Mercator projection maps in schools across the United States. The New York Times in 1943 called the use of the Mercator maps in schools misleading and claimed that it gives children a grossly inaccurate representation of the world. People who oppose the use of the Mercator projection map call it ‘grotesque’ and ‘misshapen.’ In reality, however, any projection of the world map is bound to have distortions. The Gall-Peters projection map, for instance, looks like a vertically stretched version of the Mercator projection, while the Werner projection looks like a map skewed into the shape of a heart. Since there isn’t such a thing as a perfect map projection, it will all perhaps boil down to one’s preference and purpose when it comes to selecting a map projection to use. Source.