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Map Projections

Projecting Our Globe Onto A Flat Surface

Globes are the most accurate way to represent the surface of the Earth. However, because it is not practical to carry a globe into the field, map makers must figure out how to represent a round map on a flat piece of paper, or on a flat screen.

Consider the challenge of gift wrapping a rubber bouncy ball. What happens as you place gift wrap around the ball? Can you wrap the ball in such a way so that the paper is perfectly flat? No matter how long you try, you cannot cover a round object with flat piece of paper without creating wrinkles, folds, or cuts in the paper.

Over the centuries, many different ways of representing the round Earth on flat paper have been developed. Each of these methods is referred to as a map projection. What does it mean to project something? Have you ever been to the movie theatre? How does the movie get on the movie screen? The image you watch on the screen is projected using a high powered light from the back of the theater. Now, imagine placing a projector inside of a globe and projecting the different continents, islands, and other features onto a flat screen. What would the projection look like? This depends on where you place the screen.

Map Projection