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Vintage Viz: The World’s Rivers and Lakes, Organized Neatly

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Hand colored engraved view of the comparative length of the rivers and size of the lakes in the world. Includes list of rivers and lakes beneath the view.

Vintage Viz: The World’s Rivers and Lakes, Organized Neatly

Rivers and lakes have borne witness to many of humanity’s greatest moments.

In the first century BCE, the Rubicon not only marked the border between the Roman provinces of Gaul and Italia, but also the threshold for civil war. From the shores of Lake Van in 1071, you could witness the Battle of Manzikert and the beginning of the end for the Byzantine Empire.

Rivers carry our trade, our dead, and even our prayers, so when London mapmaker James Reynolds partnered with engraver John Emslie to publish the Panoramic Plan of the Principal Rivers and Lakes in 1850, he could be sure of a warm reception.

The visualization, the latest in our Vintage Viz series, beautifully illustrates 42 principal rivers in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas, along with 36 lakes across the Eastern and Western hemispheres. Each river has been unraveled and straightened onto an imaginary landscape-–no meandering here—and arranged by size. Major cities are marked by a deep orangy-red.

Top 3 Longest Principal Rivers (in 1850)

According to this visualization, the Mighty Mississippi is among the world’s longest, coming in at 3,650 miles, followed by the Amazon, the Nile, and the Yangtze river in China. The bottom three are the Tay in Scotland (125 miles), the Shannon in Ireland (200 miles), and the Potomac in the U.S. (275 miles).

Surveying methods have come a long way since 1850, and we now have satellites, GPS, and lasers, so we can update these rankings. According to the CIA World Factbook, the Nile (6,650 km / 4,132 miles), the Amazon (6,436 km / 3,998 miles), and the Yangtze (6,300 km / 3,915 miles) are the world’s top three longest rivers.

The table below shows the rivers in the graphic above compared with today’s measurements, as well as the general location of rivers using 1850 location names (including modern day locations in brackets).

RiverTerritoryViz length (miles)Modern length (miles)
MississippiUnited States3,6502,340
AmazonBrazil3,3503,998
NileEgypt and Abyssinia (Ethiopia)3,3254,132
YangtseChina3,3003,915
Hoang-hoChina3,0253,395
ObiSiberia2,8002,268
La PlataLa Plata (Argentina/Uruguay)2,4503,030
VolgaRussia2,2002,193
BurrampootaTibet2,2001,800
GangesHindostan (India)1,9751,569
EuphratesA(siatic) Turkey1,8501,740
DanubeGermany1,8001,770
NigerNigeria1,7502,600
IndusCaubul etc (Afghanistan etc)1,7001,988
McKenzieIndian Territory (Canada)1,6001,080
SenegalSenegambia (Senegal)1,4501,020
DnieperRussia1,3751,367
OronocoGran Colombia (Venezuela)1,3251,700
GambiaSenegambia (The Gambia)1,300740
Bravo del Norta (Rio Grande)Mexico1,1501,900
St. LawrenceCanada1,1251,900
OrangeNamaqualand (Namibia/South Africa)1,1001,367
DwinaRussia1,0001,020
DonRussia9751,198
RhineGermany850766
ElbeGermany750724
VistulaPoland650651
OderPrussia (Germany)625529
ColorandoLa Plato (United States)6001,450
TagueSpain and Portugal575626
SusquehanaUnited States575464
RhoneFrance550505
SeineFrance475485
PoNorth Italy450405
HudsonUnited States425315
EbroSpain400565
SevernEngland350220
DelawareUnited States325301
PotomacUnited States275405
ThamesEngland275215
ShannonIreland200224
TayScotland125117

These figures are a unique look into a time period where humanity’s efforts to quantify the world were still very much a work in progress.

Editor’s note: Some of the rivers and lakes are spelled slightly differently in 1850 than they are today. For example, the map notes today’s Mackenzie River (Canada) as the McKenzie River, and the Yangtze River (China) as the Yangtse.

O Say, Can You Sea?

The largest ‘lake’ in this visualization is the Caspian Sea (118,000 sq. miles), followed by the Black Sea (113,000 sq. miles), and the greatest of the Great Lakes, Lake Superior (22,400 sq. miles). While the Caspian Sea is considered a saltwater lake and could reasonably have a place here, the Black Sea—possibly bearing that name because of the color black’s association with “north”—is not a lake by any stretch of the imagination.

And while many of the surface areas reported could also be updated with modern estimates, the story behind Lake Chad (called Ichad in the visualization), the Aral Sea, and the Dead Sea are altogether different. Human development, unsustainable water use, and climate change have led to dramatic drops in water levels.

The Dead Sea in particular had a surface area of 405 sq. miles (1,050 km2) in 1930, but has since dropped to 234 sq. miles (606.1 km2) in 2016.

LakeTerritoryViz surface area (sq. miles)Modern surface area (sq. miles)
Caspian SeaRussia118,000143,000
Black SeaTurkey113,000168,500
SuperiorNorth America22,40031,700
HuronNorth America15,80023,007
MichiganNorth America12,60022,404
Great SlaveNorth America12,00010,500
Aral SeaTartary (Central Eurasia)11,6506,900
IchadAfrica11,600590
AzovRussia8,80014,500
Baikal SeaSiberia8,00012,248
WinnepegNorth America7,2009,416
MaracaiboSouth America6,0005,130
TiticacaSouth America5,4003,030
LadogaRussia5,2006,700
BalkashMongolia5,2007,000
ErieNorth America4,8009,910
OntarioNorth America4,4507,340
Great BearNorth America4,00012,028
OregaRussia3,3003,700
AthabascaNorth America3,2003,030
NicaraguaNorth America2,9053,149
OtehenantekaneNorth America2,5002,500
WenerSweden2,1002,181
WinnepagosNorth America2,0002,070
ZaizanMongolia1,600700
DembiaAbyssinia (Ethiopia)1,3001,418
TontingChina1,2001,090
WetterSweden945738
OreboSweden900186
OuroomiaPersia9001,126
EnareLapland (Finland)8701,040
ConstanceScotland456209
GenevaSwtizerland400224
Dead SeaSyria370605
Lough NeaghIreland80153
Loch LomondScotland2727

You Can’t Step in the Same River Twice

Over time, natural and anthropogenic forces cause rivers to change their course, and lakes to shift their banks. If Reynolds and Emslie were alive today to update this visualization, it would likely look quite different, as would one made 100 years from now. But so goes the river of time.

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Mapped: Carbon Pricing Initiatives Around the World

This graphic maps the 70 active carbon pricing initiatives worldwide, their established price of carbon, and the global emissions they cover.

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Shareable carbon pricing initiatives across the world

Mapped: Carbon Pricing Initiatives Around the World

Over the past two decades, governments around the world have responded to climate change through various initiatives and policies, with carbon pricing at the forefront.

A recent example is the Canadian province of Ontario’s Emissions Performance Standards program, first launched in 2022. The program sets annual carbon emissions limits for industrial facilities, with a fee on excess carbon emitted.

This graphic by Jonathan Letourneau maps 70 active carbon pricing initiatives around the world and highlights their global impact as seen in the 2022 World Bank report.

But first, let’s look at the different types of carbon pricing:

Carbon Tax vs. ETS

Broadly speaking, carbon pricing gives emission generating organizations a choice between reducing their carbon emissions and paying for them.

The two typical initiatives used to offer this choice are carbon taxes and emissions trading systems (ETS):

  • Carbon tax: This tax or levy is directly applied to the production of carbon emissions or fuels that release greenhouse gases. This makes products or services that release substantial carbon more expensive than greener alternatives (or reducing emissions).
  • Emissions Trading System (ETS): Also called the cap-and-trade system, ETS puts a cap on the total level of greenhouse gases a licensed industry can emit. Companies with low emissions can sell their unused emission allowance with larger emitters that have exceeded the cap.

The World’s Carbon Pricing Initiatives

As of the end of 2022, Europe was home to 24 of the 70 active carbon pricing initiatives in the world.

LocationCarbon Pricing TypeCO2e Price Per Tonne (USD)Emissions Covered (Tonnes)
🇦🇷 ArgentinaCarbon tax$4.9979.46
🇦🇹 AustriaETSN/A34.41
🇨🇦 CanadaETS$39.9653.35
🇨🇦 CanadaCarbon tax$39.96167.67
🇨🇦 Canada - AlbertaETS$39.96140.36
🇨🇦 Canada - British ColumbiaETS$19.98N/A
🇨🇦 Canada - British ColumbiaCarbon tax$39.9646.41
🇨🇦 Canada - New BrunswickETS$39.967.05
🇨🇦 Canada - New BrunswickCarbon tax$39.965.50
🇨🇦 Canada - Newfoundland and LabradorETS$39.964.59
🇨🇦 Canada - Newfoundland and LabradorCarbon tax$39.965.01
🇨🇦 Canada - Northwest TerritoriesCarbon tax$31.971.33
🇨🇦 Canada - Nova ScotiaETS$23.1014.02
🇨🇦 Canada - OntarioETS$31.9741.12
🇨🇦 Canada - Prince Edward IslandCarbon tax$23.980.97
🇨🇦 Canada - QuebecETS$30.8360.92
🇨🇦 Canada - SaskatchewanETS$39.9610.23
🇨🇱 ChileCarbon tax$5.0036.93
🇨🇳 ChinaETS$9.204,500.00
🇨🇳 China - BeijingETS$6.5331.89
🇨🇳 China - ChongqingETS$5.6667.14
🇨🇳 China - FujianETS$1.83125.13
🇨🇳 China - Guangdong (except Shenzhen)ETS$12.51259.23
🇨🇳 China - HubeiETS$7.2463.80
🇨🇳 China - ShanghaiETS$9.2878.48
🇨🇳 China - ShenzhenETS$0.6413.17
🇨🇳 China - TianjinETS$4.4053.08
🇨🇴 ColombiaCarbon tax$5.0144.68
🇩🇰 DenmarkCarbon tax$26.6217.21
🇪🇪 EstoniaCarbon tax$2.211.41
🇪🇺 EU - Norway, Iceland, LiechtensteinETS$86.531,626.60
🇫🇮 FinlandCarbon tax$85.1026.93
🇫🇷 FranceCarbon tax$49.29157.78
🇩🇪 GermanyETS$33.16349.44
🇮🇸 IcelandCarbon tax$34.252.72
🇮🇪 IrelandCarbon tax$45.3127.05
🇯🇵 JapanCarbon tax$2.36952.66
🇯🇵 Japan - SaitamaETS$3.848.16
🇯🇵 Japan - TokyoETS$4.4213.26
🇰🇿 KazakhstanETS$1.08169.18
🇰🇷 Korea, Republic ofETS$18.75554.44
🇱🇻 LatviaCarbon tax$16.580.38
🇱🇮 LiechtensteinCarbon tax$129.860.15
🇱🇺 LuxembourgCarbon tax$43.356.80
🇲🇽 MexicoCarbon tax$3.72352.61
🇲🇽 MexicoETS$3.72320.55
🇲🇽 Mexico - Baja CaliforniaCarbon taxN/AN/A
🇲🇽 Mexico - TamaulipasCarbon taxN/AN/A
🇲🇽 Mexico - ZacatecasCarbon taxN/AN/A
🇲🇪 MontenegroETSN/AN/A
🇳🇱 NetherlandsCarbon tax$46.1425.96
🇳🇿 New ZealandETS$52.6241.61
🇳🇴 NorwayCarbon tax$87.6144.73
🇵🇱 PolandCarbon taxN/A15.94
🇵🇹 PortugalCarbon tax$26.4425.04
🇸🇬 SingaporeCarbon tax$3.9656.42
🇸🇮 SloveniaCarbon tax$19.1210.65
🇿🇦 South AfricaCarbon tax$9.84459.17
🇪🇸 SpainCarbon tax$16.586.23
🇸🇪 SwedenCarbon tax$129.8925.83
🇨🇭 SwitzerlandETS$64.225.06
🇨🇭 SwitzerlandCarbon tax$129.8615.75
🇺🇸 United States - CaliforniaETS$30.82309.47
🇺🇸 United States - New England Area (RGGI)ETS$13.8967.92
🇺🇸 United States - New England Area (RGGI)ETS$0.506.07
🇺🇸 United States - OregonETSN/A27.09
🇺🇦 UkraineCarbon tax$1.03197.46
🇬🇧 United KingdomCarbon tax$23.6597.38
🇬🇧 United KingdomETS$98.99129.85
🇺🇾 UruguayCarbon tax$137.304.38

Europe’s position is not surprising given many of its countries have set ambitious carbon neutral goals. The region’s European Union Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) is the world’s largest carbon market, covering 1.8 billion tonnes of emissions annually.

Canada has also implemented numerous regional and national carbon pricing initiatives, with many provinces falling under both main types of carbon pricing. For example, carbon emissions in British Columbia—the first jurisdiction in North America to implement carbon pricing—are priced under both a carbon tax and an ETS.

Meanwhile, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases in 2021, China, implemented its much-awaited national ETS the same year. In just one year, the country’s traded carbon emission allowances crossed 200 million tonnes.

In the U.S., several states have implemented their own carbon pricing initiatives. California’s cap-and-trade initiative covers emissions from electricity, transportation, and industry, while the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative sets a cap on emissions from power plants of nine Northeastern states, including New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania.

The Impact of Carbon Pricing

Putting a price on carbon emissions seems to have made an impact in reducing emissions.

In Europe, the EU ETS has helped reduce emissions from the power sector by 43% in the region since its inception in 2005.

Likewise, California’s Cap-and-Trade program has helped the state meet its goal of reducing carbon emissions back to 1990 levels.

In many jurisdictions, including China and Canada, there are plans to double down on carbon pricing plans, either by increasing the cost of carbon or lowering emissions limits.

But while many economists and policy makers have found carbon pricing to be the most efficient tool to curb emissions, they also point out that the programs themselves need to be designed well. Initiatives with limits that are too high or prices that are too low can be ineffectual, as well as giving certain major polluters exemptions from programs.

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