The Inverted World Map – Variations on a Blue Marble

It probably happens to everyone who likes to look at maps. You imagine land to be water and water to be land. Continents to be oceans and and oceans to be continents. Islands to be lakes and lakes to be islands.

Simple green and blue version of the Inverted World Map

I could not resist the temptation to make a detailed map of such a topsy-turvy world. But I am not the first to do so. A little bit of googling yields a nice collection of inverted maps. Vladislav Gerasimov, for example, made a lovely styled fantasy map. And Chris Wajan on his Panetocopia website extensively discusses climate, vegetation and culture of Inversia (and of another twenty or so possible worlds).

The Blue Marble

Still, I think my map adds something, especially because of the color scheme, for which I let myself be inspired by the famous Blue Marble maps by NASA. Those show the Earth as it looks from space. Of course my version is a little less blue and a little more green and especially more yellow, red and brown:

The inverted world map where land and sea have been swapped

Inverted Relief

Not only the coast lines are reversed in this world. Also, the relief is consistently the opposite of reality. So the deepest parts of the oceans are in the Tibetan and Himalayan troughs in the southern part of the Asian Ocean. And the highest peaks, around eleven kilometer, are found in the Mariana Mountains in the west of the continent Pacifica.

If you zoom in very far, the inversion has to stop somewhere. At least it is difficult to imagine reversed rivers as dams stretching into the ocean for hundreds of kilometers. But that scale level is not relevant for this global map.

Detail of the Inverted World Map, showing Australia and its surroundings, or the Australian Sea, New Landseas and the Indonesian Lakes

Deserts and jungles

It is an extraordinary planet, this inverted world. It has more than twice as much land available as our own Earth. Which does not mean, however, that twice as many people can live there, because only a small part of this surface is green. After all, the rain must come from somewhere.

Particularly Pacifica, almost completely surrounded by high mountain ranges, is one big desert. Great for the fans of desolate stony plains, and I count myself among them. But not very suitable for agriculture.

There are also regions that provoke an instantaneous view of lush green hills. The Mediterranean peninsula for instance, or the Big Islands in the Canadian ocean. Or the area around the Lakes of Indonesia, or otherwise Caribia, completely surrounded by seas and lakes.

Fragment of an inverted world map, inspired by NASA's Blue Marble, including the Canadian and Brazilian Oceans, Caribia and Sargassoland

A walk around the world

For maritime transport such an inverted world is not optimal. On foot you can get almost anywhere so a walk around the planet is possible. But simply sailing around the world is not an option. Perhaps a Bering Canal between the Alaska Sea and the Gulf of Chukotka can ease the pain a little, but watch out for icebergs!

Inversion of the names

The nomenclature is, in many places, pretty obvious. Northsea becomes Northland, Greenland becomes the Green Sea. Polynesia remains Polynesia, New Zealand turns into the New Landseas. And of course there is a Panama Straits, a Newfoundlake and a Gulf of Surinam.

But especially in the Southern Hemisphere, which in our world is mostly water, there are areas where names are scarce. Well, everything below the forty-fifth parallel is one globe-spanning Siberia anyway, very sparsely populated and therefore less densely dotted with names.

The shores of the European Sea

Let’s finally zoom into to a fascinating part of the map: the area around the European Sea:

Fragment of the inverted worldmap with the area around the European Sea

A part of the world with spectacular coastlines. From the North Atlantic continent two oddly shaped peninsulas stretch far in the direction of the Asian Ocean: Eastland, which splits into Bothnia and Finland, and Mediterrania, which is further connected with Blackland through the narrow Bosphorus landbridge. Also the area around the British Lakes, with the Celtic lowlands that rise towards the North Atlantic heights, looks promising as a holiday destination. Not even mentioning more northerly regions like the shores of the Icelake and the Green Sea, or the Scandinavian archipelago.

In short, an ideal backdrop for a 48-part fantasy series with Carice van Houten as Queen of Biscay … Does anyone happen to know people at HBO or Netflix?

UPDATE 18 April 2016: As the Inverted World turns

A flat map is fun to look at, but it really captures the imagination if it’s projected on a sphere. So I’ve done exactly that. Here are three different globes: one on which the American Oceans get all the attention, a Eurocentric (also Afro-centric) variation, and a version that people in the Far East and down under will appreciate.

Three inverted globes, on which water and land have been swapped: one focussing on the Americas, one with Europe and Africa and one with Asia and Australia

Also these three images have been added to the Space Art collection in my online gallery.

UPDATE 23 november 2017: Cartoon

While working on the impression of Alice and Goliath, I thought that it would be nice to make a few photo-realistic renderings of the Inverted World as well. Eventually that turned out into more cartoon-like images with a greatly exaggerated relief and a background of twinkling stars. That way they fit a lot better with the fantasy character of the project.

A triptych of cartoon-like impressions of the Inverted World on which land is water and water is land.
Cartoon version of the Inverted World with highly exagerated relief, zooming in on the eastern part of the Canadian Ocean

UPDATE: February 11, 2019: Nameless

I have done my very best to think of interesting names for the oceans and continents and other geographic phenomena on this inverted fantasy world. But perhaps in doing so, I am restraining the viewer’s imagination too much.

I therefore made a version of the map without names. Just the beauty of the landscapes and coastlines of this special planet. It is completely up to the spectator to discover this wonderful world, invent names and create stories!

Map of the Inverted World, a fantasy world in which oceans and continents have been swapped, where land is water and water is land, as wall decoration in a virtual room
The Inverted World as wall decoration

UPDATE October 12, 2021: Americentric

Someone asked me why I centered the map on Europe (and Africa). Good point! The reason is of course that I live in Europe myself and that I am used to it this way. But it is perfectly understandable if an American would prefer to see the Western Hemisphere as the center of the Inverted World. It was a small effort to make such an Americentric version. With the American Oceans, also referred to as the Canadian and Brazilian Oceans, in the middle. The two bodies of water are connected by Panama Straits, which over the centuries has always been an important trade route between the cultures of the North and South.

A version of the Inverted World Map, on which land and water have changed places, centered on the American Oceans
The American Oceans in the center

Frans Blok

My work explores the border regions of photography, painting and computer visuals. With my company 3Develop I do work in commission but I use the same techniques, skills and software to make free work. I am originally an architect and I live in Rotterdam; for that reason the architecture of that city is a major (but not the only) source of inspiration. But also travel to countries like Iceland and Britain, or walks in the Netherlands, provide much material. Seeing and showing quality and beauty, that is what my work is about.

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22 Responses

  1. Chris Candor says:

    I imagined the exactly same thing today while doing some logo work with a world map and find your map to be splendid. Well done job, I think if you would put the map upside down, with the Australian Sea on the top and the North American Ocean on the bottom, it would look even more “outlandish”.

  2. says:

    I would like to see your version of the world map where islands are oceans! I have never thought about it, it is a very interesting idea! let’s develop our imagination!

  3. professional essay editing service - says:

    Creating a map is an excellent idea, especially when we imagine land to be water and water to be land. Such a walk through the world can be remembered forever.

  4. says:

    Our planet is gorgeous . That is so nice to live on it and use the riches of it. be grateful for everything.

  5. Joe says:

    Hi, I am a science fiction’s lover and not so many days ago I read a short story written by Ian Watson titled “In the mirror of the Earth”. It deals with an alternative universe in which land is water and vice versa. That’s why I found this web site and your project.
    Thanks a lot!

  6. An interesting vision of geographical maps! You can endlessly fantasize on this topic, it turns out something like alternative reality

  7. I like reality. And it is difficult for me to imagine a topsy-turvy world. However, your fantasy map is great!

  8. Jake Bingenheimer says:

    Can we get a full resolution version of this image?

  9. Daniel Tavares says:

    That’s really nice. Twisted my mind.

    I’d just change the name of Mediterranea to something like Medimarinia (or something like this), once the meaning of the name of the see is “between lands” and now would be “between seas”.

  10. Carlos Colodetti says:

    Hello Frans! Loved the work, very detailed and well done!
    Do you intend on selling a digital full resolution version of this image? I’ve searched the listed websites but they only sell prints.

    • Frans Blok says:

      Hi Carlos, thanks for the words of praise. The listed websites indeed only sell prints, but I’ve sold/licensed the hi res digital version as well, the fee depending on the kind of use.

  11. ShadowWolfTJC says:

    Just started pondering about this earlier today, and I’d like to say nice job on detailing the map. However, I’ve also been wondering about what implications would the planet’s new proportions of land and water proportions have on its albedo levels (most likely raising them), and how they would influence global climates. Well, one unnerving conclusion that I came to, based on surface albedo only (in addition to factoring in my basic understanding about climate as a result of atmospheric and oceanic circulation patterns), is that, because ocean water has an albedo of just 0.06, whereas desert sand has an albedo of up to 0.4, grass has an albedo of up to 0.25, and snow has an albedo of up to 0.8, and because there’s more desert and less ocean within this hypothetical inverted Earth, wouldn’t the planet be colder as a result of its higher overall albedo (like as cool as during the Ice Age, or even colder), possibly even trapped within a Snowball Earth cycle in a worst-case scenario?

    • Frans Blok says:

      Good point. You’d certainly end up with a higher albedo, resulting in lower temperatures, more snow and ice and an even highter albedo. A Snowball Earth seems indeed like a plausible scenario. Unless the planet is moved to an orbit closer to the sun which, after turning all land into water and vice versa, sounds like just a minor adjustment…

  12. John M. Burt says:

    My imagination runs a little more fancifully when it comes to naming the places. I would instantly call the Atlantic continent Atlantis, which of course makes the Pacific Mu and the Indian continent Lemuria.
    The former Caribbean is Antillia, the former North Sea is Lyonesse, oh, I think there are almost enough sunken lands alone to fill out the map, but if there aren’t, we can call muster on the simply imaginary as well.

  13. Paul says:

    You really should read Ian Watson’s ‘In the Mirror of the Earth’. He imagined the whole thing forty years ago; curiously, even some of the names are the same (e. g., Pacifica).
    Being a rather profound world of speculative fiction, ‘Mirror’ demonstrates how such a world might impact on its human inhabitants. The populace of Thraea (the – almost – anagrammatically mirrored ‘Earth’) do not sleep (the reduced oceans impacting their circadian/biological functions; whilst their construction projects are not so much vertical (tall buildings, etc.) as linear and horizontal (canals, dams, bridges).
    The story is short, but its effect is long-lasting. Just like your map, it is a hauntingly beautiful evocation of the alternative.

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