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Africa Is Much Larger Than You Assume


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Africa is bigger than China, India, the contiguous U.S. and most of Europe—combined!

Africa Is Way Bigger Than You Think
Credit: Getty Images

Look at the usual flat map of the world and it appears that Greenland is nearly as big as Africa. But it’s not even close. Africa is 14 times larger. Flat maps significantly distort the sizes of countries and continents, the result of converting a spherical surface to a handy rectangle. The area of landmasses becomes increasingly exaggerated toward the poles.

As a result, we tend to underestimate the size of countries close to the equator, and substantially overestimate the size of countries closer to the poles. On our actual planet, Africa is bigger than China, India, the contiguous U.S. and most of Europe—combined! Scientific American just published a correctly proportioned image to show how Africa swallows up these nations, with Japan thrown in. It also turns out that Saudi Arabia has more area than France, Spain, Germany, Poland and Italy together.

For the record, then, a list of geographic sizes is below. Indeed, Africa is a continent, not a country, but I think you’ll be impressed at how much larger it is than you probably thought. Realizing the true size of Africa also helps us appreciate how daunting it may be to solve Africa’s poverty and food challenges.

Geographic Area (millions of square kilometers)

Top 15 countries

(Africa)

30.4

Russia

17.1

Canada

10.0

China

9.6

U.S.

9.5

Brazil

8.5

Australia

7.7

India

3.3

Argentina

2.8

Kazakhstan

2.7

Algeria

2.4

DR Congo

2.3

Greenland

2.2

Saudi Arabia

2.1

Mexico

2.0

Indonesia

1.9

Other nations and city-states

South Africa

1.2

Venezuela

0.9

Afghanistan

0.65

Somalia

0.64

France

0.55

Spain

0.51

Germany

0.36

Poland

0.31

Italy

0.30

Luxembourg

0.003

Monaco

0.000002

Vatican City

0.0000004

The views expressed are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)

VIDEO: Why Africa is Bigger Than you Think
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    Mark Fischetti has been a senior editor at Scientific American for 17 years and has covered sustainability issues, including climate, weather, environment, energy, food, water, biodiversity, population, and more. He assigns and edits feature articles, commentaries and news by journalists and scientists and also writes in those formats. He edits History, the magazine's department looking at science advances throughout time. He was founding managing editor of two spinoff magazines: Scientific American Mind and Scientific American Earth 3.0. His 2001 freelance article for the magazine, "What Happens to Your Body after You Die?, has more than 12 million views on YouTube. Fischetti has written freelance articles for the New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Smithsonian, Technology Review, Fast Company, and many others. He co-authored the book Weaving the Web with Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, which tells the real story of how the Web was created. He also co-authored The New Killer Diseases with microbiologist Elinor Levy. Fischetti is a former managing editor of IEEE Spectrum Magazine and of Family Business Magazine. He has a physics degree and has twice served as the Attaway Fellow in Civic Culture at Centenary College of Louisiana, which awarded him an honorary doctorate. In 2021 he received the American Geophysical Union's Robert C. Cowen Award for Sustained Achievement in Science Journalism, which celebrates a career of outstanding reporting on the Earth and space sciences. He has appeared on NBC's Meet the Press, CNN, the History Channel, NPR News and many news radio stations. Follow Fischetti on X (formerly Twitter) @markfischetti Credit: Nick Higgins

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