Answer to Map #45

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Answer: This week’s map was a cartogram in which the countries of the world were enlarged in proportion to the amount of copper they produce in a year.

The data set used to make this map, which dates to 2012, comes ultimately from the Minerals Resources Program of the United States Geological Survey. As we pointed out in Tuesday’s hint, there have been a few significant changes in global copper production since 2012, but nothing so dramatic it would make this map unguessable. It will be interesting to see whether some of the ongoing trends—increasing production in Peru, Indonesia, and Mongolia, for example—will continue into the future.

For a long time, the world’s largest copper producer has been Chile, which has extensive reserves of copper in the Atacama Desert, the world’s driest place. Copper once accounted for nearly 80% of Chile’s total exports, though its importance has declined considerably in the past several decades.

In fact, the world’s leading producers of copper have changed over time. A century ago, the United States mined more copper than any other country. Today, however, many formerly productive copper mines in the United States and Europe are closed because they have been exhausted. Instead, people have had to look to new sources of copper in other places. In recent decades, demand for copper has also changed. Whereas the industrialized nations in Europe and North America once imported most of the world’s copper, there is now rapidly increasing demand in industrializing countries such as China and India.

With the global demand for copper still very much unsatisfied, people keep looking for new sources of the metal. One country with the potential to grow on future cartograms of copper production is Papua New Guinea. That’s because the Solaris 1 project to mine deep underwater in the Bismarck Sea off the coast of Papua New Guinea aims to tap underwater deposits of copper as well as gold. The Solaris 1 project is deeply controversial for many reasons, including environmental ones. It will be interesting to see whether deep sea mining becomes commonplace as technology improves—and, if so, what effect it has on the global copper market.

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