Africa Could Fit China and the U.S., With Room to Spare

An interactive map underscores how mind-bogglingly vast the African continent really is.

joe57spike / Flickr

Africa is massive—30.22 million square kilometers, in fact. It can easily swallow up the whole of Europe; it’s the second-largest continent in the world. Yet the familiar Mercator map does not actually reflect this reality.

The Mercator projection (Wikimedia)

In early 2013, James Talmage and Damon Maneice, two computer developers in Detroit, created an interactive map that shows the relative expanse of nations and continents. Partly inspired by the designer Kai Krause’s mapThe True Size of Africa,” and an episode of The West Wing, shows how distorting the Mercator-map projections are.

How does the tool work? You enter a name of a country and then drag that country on to your desired geographical point of comparison; the tool will adjust the country’s borders to reflect its true relative size. For example, the map below shows the size of Africa in relation to China and the U.S. Look at how the two biggest economies in the world can both be swallowed by the continent with room to spare.

Or look at Germany: Once a colonial power that presided over a swath of East Africa, it is actually half the size of Tanzania.

The True Size map points out that Mercator projections suggest Greenland is roughly the same size size as Africa. The mind-blowing reality is that the continent is 14.5 times bigger than Greenland.

Another perspective-altering example is that of Sudan (both North and South), which is almost the size of Western Europe.

These visualizations challenge deeply held assumptions about the size of nations. But does the fact that Africa is bigger than many people realize change the way people think about the continent? Krause, the designer whose map helped inspire Talmage and Maneice, has written that it’s simpler than that.

“Africa is just immense—much, much larger than you or I thought,” he wrote. “Just look at it, realize that, and smile—because you will never forget it again.”