Probably the most famous of the various map projections, the Mercator projection takes its name from Mercator who presented it in 1569. It is a cylindrical, conformal projection with no distortion along the equator. A major navigational feature of the projection is that a line of constant azimuth is straight. Such a line is called a rhumb line or loxodrome. Thus, to sail from one point to another one only had to connect the points with a straight line, determine the azimuth of the line, and keep this constant course for the entire voyage6.2. The Mercator projection has been used extensively for world maps in which the distortion towards the polar regions grows rather large, thus incorrectly giving the impression that, for example, Greenland is larger than South America. In reality, the latter is about eight times the size of Greenland. Also, the Former Soviet Union looks much bigger than Africa or South America. One may wonder whether this illusion has had any influence on U.S. foreign policy.
In the regular Mercator projection, the cylinder touches the globe along the equator. Other orientations like vertical and oblique give rise to the Transverse and Oblique Mercator projections, respectively. We will discuss these generalizations following the regular Mercator projection.
The regular Mercator projection requires a minimum of parameters. To use it in GMT programs you supply this information (the first two items are optional and have defaults):
Our example presents a world map at a scale of 0.012 inch pr degree which will give a map 4.32 inch wide. It was created with the command:
gmtset PLOT_DEGREE_FORMAT ddd:mm:ss BASEMAP_TYPE fancy pscoast -R0/360/-70/70 -Jm1.2e-2i -Ba60f30/a30f15 -Dc -A5000 -Gblack -P > GMT_mercator.ps
While this example is centered on the Dateline, one can easily choose another configuration with the -R option. A map centered on Greenwich would specify the region with -R-180/180/-70/70.