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How is coast length measured/defined?

Emperor 2020

When you look up almost any geographical feature with a coast on Wikipedia, it will usually mention coast length among its main features. It will also have a little Asterix by that number which will lead to a footnote saying how this number is dubious or downright pointless and useless due to problems arising from the semi-fractal nature of the coast. This length can be made arguably large just by changing the ruler size.

And yet, coastline/shore length data can be found for pretty much anything, and countries are often compared by their coastline length. Where do all these numbers come from? Is there a well-defined ruler or “coast resolution” that “the world” in general is using? For example, there are values given for shore length for Baikal and Tanganyika lakes. Are those values comparable (well-ordered for those mathematically inclined)?

Ans by soupjuice

It’s actually pretty undefined. There is no way to decide on a universal scale to measure lengths in, as using a shorter unit will result in an ultimately longer total – it’s a paradox.

It’s THE coastline paradox: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coastline_paradox

And you should question any coastline measurement because of it and at least find out HOW it was measured – for the same reasons you’ve initially asked.