Did you know that if you are gazing across the water from a beach on the U.S. east coast, you’re more likely to be looking out over South America or Africa than Europe? What’s really across the ocean from you when you look straight out may not be the place you believe should be there.
Inspired by “a map done a couple of years ago” by Eric Odenheimer, as well as a few follow-ups by Weiyi Cai and Laris Karklis of the Washington Post, cartographer Andy Woodruff has created a mind-bending collection of maps to show who we would actually be waving to if we could spot land at the opposite end of the watery horizon.
“In the northern reaches of Newfoundland, near the town of St. Anthony, is the Fox Point Lighthouse. I’ve never been there, but I know it has one of the most impressive ocean views in the world. If you face perpendicular to the right bit of rocky coastline there and gaze straight across the ocean, your mind’s eye peering well beyond the horizon, you can see all the way to Australia,” Woodruff says on his blog.
“Latitude maps got me interested in answering the question more strictly,” he adds. “Standing on a given point and facing perpendicular to the coast, if you went straight ahead, never turning, where would you end up? There are two reasons why following a line of latitude won’t answer the question: coastlines are crooked and wacky, and the earth is round.”
With this in mind, Woodruff created a series of maps showing the points from which you can theoretically “see” each of the continents. The maps show coastal points around the world (except Antarctica) that directly face each continent, taking into account the direction of the coastline at those points and a round Earth.
Since coastlines face all different directions, Woodruff defines “directly across” to mean facing perpendicular to the coast at the exact point where you are standing. The brighter end of each line is the view of origin — a point from which you can see the continent labeled on the map.
To obtain a rough idea of what direction coastlines face, he explains that: “I’m calculating the angle between every pair of adjacent coastal vertices in medium scale Natural Earth data, then placing a point in between them and measuring the view from there based on that angle.” Angle calculations were made using projected coordinates because the conformal Mercator projection preserves local angles.
Obtaining the second point was a little trickier. “I’m not entirely certain that I have all the math right, but I think it’s at least close,” he says. He provides more specific details at andywoodruff.com/blog/beyond-the-sea.
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