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Cryospheric Sciences

Fun Facts

Image of the Week – The true size of Greenland

Fig. 1: Greenland is slightly bigger than  Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Portugal, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom together [Credit: The True Size].

Greenland is a critical part of the world, which is regularly covered on this blog, because it hosts the second largest ice body on Earth – the Greenland Ice Sheet. This ice sheet, along with its small peripheral ice caps, contributes by 43% to current sea-level rise.

However, despite being the world’s largest island Greenland, appears disproportionately large on the most common world maps (Fig. 2). Our new image of the week takes a look at the true size of Greenland…


Fig. 2: World (Mercator) map used by many online mapping applications. [Credit: D. Strebe/Wikimedia commons]

How big is Greenland?

We could simply tell you that Greenland stretches over ~2 million km². For most people, this figure would however not speak for itself.   Luckily, The True Size is a web application that comes to our rescue by enabling us to compare the true size of all the countries in the world.

As we can see in Fig. 1, Greenland is in fact only slightly bigger than Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Portugal, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom together.

Similarly, Greenland is also (Fig. 3):

  • roughly the size of the Democratic Republic of Congo

  • could fit 1.4 times in India

  • 4.2 times smaller than than the United States

  • could fit 3.5 times in Australia

Fig. 3: Greenland vs Democratic Republic of Congo, Australia, the United States and India. [Credit: The True Size]

 Greenland is therefore big but not as big as what is suggested by the most common maps (Fig. 2). As a result, one can therefore wonder why the most popular world maps distort the size of the countries.

All maps are wrong but some are useful

To map the world, cartographers must project a curved surface on a flat piece of paper. There are different approaches to do so but all distort the earth surface in some ways. For instance, conformal projections preserve angles and shapes but change the size of the countries, whereas equal-area projections conserve the sizes but distort the shapes. As a result, a map projection that suits all purposes does not exist. Instead, the choice of the projection will depend on the use of the map.

Fig. 4: Mercator cylindrical projection [Credit: National Atlas of the United States]

The most popular projection, the Mercator projection (Fig. 2),  is used by many online mapping applications (e.g. google maps, OpenStreetMap, etc.). In Mercator maps, the Earth’s surface is projected on a cylinder that surrounds the globe (Fig. 4). The cylinder is then unrolled to produce a flat map that preserves the shapes of landmasses but tends to stretch countries towards the poles. This is why the size of Greenland is exaggerated in many world maps.

Why does google map use the Mercator projection then?

If Google Maps and other web mapping services rely on the Mercator projection, it is not to make countries at high latitudes appear bigger, but, because those tools are mainly intended to be used at local scales. The fact that the Mercator projection preserves angles and shapes therefore ensures minimal distortions at the city-level: two perpendicular streets will always appear perpendicular in Google Maps. This is not necessarily the case at high latitudes with projections that preserves areas (as can be seen here).

Interested in this topic? Then, you might enjoy this video !

Image of the Week — Where do people stay in the “coolest” place on earth?

Image of the Week — Where do people stay in the “coolest” place on earth?

What word would you use to characterise the Antarctic ?

White?
Windy?
Remote?
Empty?
Inhospitable?
Wild?
Preserved?

While all of these are true it may surprise you to find out that the Antarctic is occupied by humans all year round with almost half of its 82 research stations operating 365.25 days a year!

Just a few hours before the launch of the biennial Antarctic meeting held by the Science Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) in Malaysia, we thought it would be perfect timing to check out who is leading research in Antarctica and where…

…but before that let’s have a look first at what makes Antarctica so special!


Antarctica, a very peculiar continent, regulated by the Antarctic treaty

Antarctica is regulated by the Antarctic Treaty that defines this continent as a “natural reserve, devoted to peace and science” (Environmental Protocol, 1991). This means that since the treaty came into force in 1961:

  • the Antarctic environment is fully protected
  • the land doesn’t not belong to any country because the treaty pauses existing territorial claims in Antarctica, as long as it stays in force
  • Antarctica has been demilitarised and no nuclear tests are allowed
  • International collaboration in the name of progressing scientific research is encouraged, with many countries with greater operational capacity aiding those with little or none to allow them to conduct research.

Who is conducting research in Antarctica and where?

Mc Murdo Station on Ross Island (West Antarctica). The station is operated by the US Antarctic Program and can accommodate up to 1,000 people. [Credit: Gaelen Marsden on Wikimedia Commons]

Mc Murdo Station on Ross Island (West Antarctica). The station is operated by the US Antarctic Program and can accommodate up to 1,000 people. [Credit: Gaelen Marsden on Wikimedia Commons]

The map above shows the 82 permanent research stations dotted across the Antarctic. Among those bases, 40 are operated all year long while the others only host scientific research during the Austral summer (November-February). The location and capacity of these stations also varies considerably from one to another. For instance, the US McMurdo station – the biggest scientific base in Antarctica – is settled on an island and is open all year-ong, accommodating up to 1,000 people during summer. On the contrary, a small seasonal station such as the Belgian Princess Elisabeth Station is only open during the summer and can host up to 20 people.

Princess Elisabeth Station, (Dronning Maud Land, East Antarctica). This seasonal station is located hundred of kilometers from the

The Belgian Princess Elisabeth Station, (Dronning Maud Land, East Antarctica). This station is only open during the austral summer and is located hundreds of kilometres away from from the coast. [Credit: René rober – International Polar Foundation]

The research supported by these scientific stations is very broad and covers topic as diverse as sea level rise, climate change, observation of space, biodiversity, etc… Much of this happens in the austral summer when field parties are able to travel from the research stations into even more remote areas of the continent to conduct experiments and install equipment. However, some science, such as meteorology and weather observations takes place all year round no matter how cold, windy and inhospitable the continent may be for those conducting the research.

This is the case of the two “brave” GPSes of Tweetin ice shelf project, which are installed on an ice shelf and tweet their position and movement all year long (you can follow them on @TweetinIceShelf).

Antarctic (stations) fun facts

  •  1 is the number of station operated by an African country : SANAE IV (South Africa)
  • 13 stations is the maximum for one single country (Argentina)
  • -89.2°C is the coldest temperature ever recorded on earth. It was at an Antarctic Station:  Vostok (Russia)
  • 1904 is the opening date of the oldest station still in activity: Orcadas (Argentina)
  • 2014 is the opening date of the youngest station : Jang Bogo (Republic of Korea)
  • 1,000 people is the maximum number of people that a station can accommodate : Mc Murdo (USA)
  • 4087 m is the elevation of the highest station : Kulun (China)
  • 8 is the number of Pokemon Go currently pinpointed in the Antarctic 😀

Here are the countries with at least one scientific base in Antarctica, does yours belong to this list?

Countries with at least one research station in Antarctica, the colors correspond to the colors of the Antarctic stations in the map above [Credit: adapted by Sophie Berger from Wikimedia Commons LINK: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Antarctican_bases.png]

Countries with at least one research station in Antarctica, the colours correspond to the colours of the Antarctic stations in the map above [Credit: adapted by Sophie Berger from Wikimedia Commons]

Previous blog posts about Antarctic fieldtrip

Edited by Emma Smith