Greenland Has Grown By Over 20% During The Last 50 Years

“Planting the flag” usually means making a claim to something, usually territory or land.

Throughout history men have “planted the flag” claiming ownership in the name of the king, queen, country, church, etc. marking the land as their own.

If you’re planning to “plant a flag” and claim an area of earth, time is running out. Marie Byrd Land and Bir Tawil Triangle are the only two land areas on Earth not claimed by any country.

The size of a countries land mass can vary for a number of reasons. Historically territorial disputes have seen land won and lost. The biggest risk to a countries land mass in the modern day is the seain some cases threatening a countries very existence.

But which countries have changed the most in size over the past 50 years?

Methodology

I used World Bank data that documents each countries land mass yearly since 1961.

To add additional context I used territorial disputes data found on Wikipedia.

Results

Land mass changes

count of countries that have changed in size

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Out of 223 countries, 37 decreased in land mass, 151 had no change and 20 grew.

land mass changes by sq km

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Most land mass changes were small +/-1K sq. km — about half the size of Monaco.

Overall, total land mass of all countries shrunk 94K sq. km between 1961 and 2014.

land area changes by country

Full size map.

Growing countries

10 countries that have grown most in land mass

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Rank land area % change Country Name Land area diff (sq. km) 1961 – 2014 Land area % of total 1961 – 2014
1 Macao SAR, China 10.30 51.50
2 Greenland 68,750.00 20.12
3 Bahrain 80.00 11.59
4 Singapore 37.00 5.52
5 Hong Kong SAR, China 30.00 2.94
6 Korea, Rep. 1,006.00 1.04
7 Jordan 540.00 0.61
8 Hungary 490.00 0.54
9 Bosnia and Herzegovina 200.00 0.39
10 Uganda 710.00 0.36

Full ranking.

Greenland’s land mass has increased 68,750 sq. km since 1961 — about the size of the Republic of Ireland. According to World Bank records the increase happened between 1996 and 1997 where land mass went from 341,700 sq. km to 410,450 — a 20% increase. I assume this is because of melting ice being officially recorded between these years.

Although Macao grew by only 10.3 sq. km this is a 50% increase in total land mass over the 53 year period.

Shrinking countries

10 countries that have shrunk most in land mass

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Rank land area % change Country Name Land area diff (sq. km) 1961 – 2014 Land area % of total 1961 – 2014
199 St. Kitts and Nevis -90.00 -25.71
200 Bhutan -8,606.00 -18.42
201 Ecuador -28,480.00 -10.29
202 Ethiopia -101,000.00 -9.17
203 Vietnam -15,420.00 -4.74
204 Channel Islands -4.00 -2.06
205 Bulgaria -2,070.00 -1.87
206 Seychelles -5.00 -1.09
207 Cuba -951.00 -0.89
208 Macedonia, FYR -210.00 -0.83

Full ranking.

Ethiopia has lost over 100K sq. km of it’s land mass since 1961. The change happened between 1992 and 1993 where land mass went from 1.1M sq. km to 1M — a loss of over 9%!

The list of shrinking countries has 4 small island nations: St Kitts and Nevis, Channel Islands, Seychelles and Cuba. This is probably a result of rising sea levels. St Kitts and Nevis lost over 25% (90 sq. km) of it’s total land mass between 1961 – 2014.

The income factor

land area diff sq km 1961 2014

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It is low income areas that will feel the impacts the most from sea level rise as they are the least prepared (lots of settlements on coast, little funding for protection projects, etc.).

The World Bank’s income segmentation highlights how the low and middle income countries are perhaps already suffering land losses as a result.

In total the world lost -34,218 sq. km of reported land mass between 1961 – 2014 — about a 0.07% total loss.

Territorial disputes

count of disputes by countries with more than 5 disputed territories

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78 countries have multiple active disputes for land. The US has the most active disputes (13), 6 of which are with Canada.

Did you know? France and Italy still dispute ownership of the Mont Blanc summit

disputed territories by region

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In total there are 159 active land disputes across the world.

Improvements

This post offers a very basic look at changing land masses with little context. Significant changes in land mass should be analysed alongside any relevant contextual information – sea level change, conflicts, etc… – to provide information on causation.

tl;dr

Ethiopia has shrunk the most in total land mass between 1961 and 2014 (-101,000 sq.km). St. Kitts and Nevis has shrunk the most as a % of total land mass (-26%).

Footnotes

  1. Data sources + data used in this post.

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