Types of Maps – Projections


Because Earth is spherical, it is difficult to represent on a piece of paper. Thus, all flat maps distort to some degree either the shapes or the areas of landmasses. Cartographers use projections to make maps. A map projection is made by transferring points and lines on a globe’s surface onto a sheet of paper. Mercator projections A Mercator projection is a map that has parallel lines of latitude and longitude. Recall that lines of longitude meet at the poles. When lines of longitude are projected as being parallel on a map, landmasses near the poles are exaggerated. Thus, in a Mercator projection, the shapes of the landmasses are correct, but their areas are distorted.

As shown in the below picture, Greenland appears much larger than Australia. In reality, Greenland is much smaller than Australia. Because Mercator projections show the correct shapes of landmasses and also clearly indicate direction in straight lines, they are used for the navigation of planes and ships.

Conic projections

A conic projection is made by projecting points and lines from a globe onto a cone, as shown in Figure 2.6. The cone touches the globe at a particular line of latitude. There is little distortion in the areas or shapes of landmasses that fall along this line of latitude. Distortion is evident, however, near the top and bottom of the projection. As shown in the below picture, the landmass at the top of the map is distorted. Because conic projections have a high degree of accuracy for limited areas, they are excellent for mapping small areas. Hence, they are used to make road maps and weather maps.

Gnomonic projections

A gnomonic (noh MAHN ihk) projection is made by projecting points and lines from a globe onto a piece of paper that touches the globe at a single point. At the single point where the map is projected, there is no distortion, but outside of this single point, great amounts of distortion are visible both in direction and landmass, as shown in Figure 2.7. Because Earth is a sphere, it is difficult to plan long travel routes on a flat projection with great distortion, such as a conic projection. To plan such a trip, a gnomonic projection is most useful. Although the direction and landmasseson the projection are distorted, it is useful for navigation. A straight line on a gnomonic projection is the straightest route from one point to another when traveled on Earth.

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