It's a problem that has plagued cartographers for centuries: How do you accurately represent a round world on a flat map?
The most common world map used today, designed almost 450 years ago, is highly distorted — it's that classroom wall map that shows Greenland as absolutely colossal. But a new map called AuthaGraph, created by Tokyo-based artist and architect Hajime Narukawa, just won Japan's distinguished for accurately representing the relative sizes of landmasses and bodies of water on Earth. The map is so proportionally accurate that you can fold it up into a three-dimensional globe.
The key to creating the new map was dividing the globe into 96 equal regions and then transferring the dimensions from a sphere to a tetrahedron before generating the rectangular map. By using multiple steps to change the globe from a rounded sphere to an angular pyramid and finally to a flat map, the area ratios of land and water can be preserved.
"This original mapping method can transfer a spherical surface to a rectangular surface such as a map of the world while maintaining correctly proportions in areas," reads the description. "AuthaGraph faithfully represents all oceans, continents including the neglected Antarctica. These fit within a rectangular frame with no interruptions. The map can be tessellated without visible seams. Thus the AuthaGraphic world map provides an advanced precise perspective of our planet."
The current standard for world maps, the Mercator projection, was developed by Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator in 1569. The map became the official standard because it is great for nautical navigation. There is one glaring flaw with Mercator's map, however. Areas near the poles are highly distorted and look much larger than they actually are. Greenland, for example, looks about the same size as Africa on a Mercator projection, even though Africa has more than 14 times as much landmass.
As GPS replaces the slide rule and sextant navigation of the past, cartographers have become increasingly interested in designing maps that accurately represent the sizes of oceans and continents. They're called area-equal maps. This was Narukawa's goal when he created the AuthaGraph map, and although it is not perfectly accurate, the Good Design Award committee mentions that the same technique could be used with more subdivisions to create a true area-equal map.
The AuthaGraph isn't likely to replace the flawed Mercator projection though, considering the new map, because of the way it is partitioned, doesn't align according to the cardinal directions. Still, the new map is an intriguing and precise way to look at the world, and it's a good reminder that the map we have grown accustomed to is highly flawed.
You can pick up your own copy of the AuthaGraph world map .