Whalers, Cartographers and Disappearing Islands

discovery channel ship

discovery channel ship (Photo credit: the queen of subtle)

This week has seen much confusion for oceanographers in the Pacific.  Scientists from the University of Sydney tried to visit Sandy Island between Australia and New Caledonia, identified on everything from marine charts to Google Earth it was nowhere to be found and the ocean beneath its supposed location was 4,500 feet deep.

That’s a lot of island to lose – an exceptional case of coastal erosion perhaps?  Or maybe one of the errors that map makers have deliberately added to maps to show who’s copied their work?

Probably the best solution has been proposed by Shaun Higgins from Auckland Museum who has found records from the whaling ship Velocity which recorded the island around 1876.  It is possible that the crew were mistaken about what they saw or where they were.  Since then it has been applied to all other maps of the area.  Google has removed the island from its database stating to AFP that they welcome feedback and “continuously explore(s) ways to integrate new information from our users and authoritative partners into Google Maps”

Whatever the cause it’s an error that has lasted until today, demonstrating the vastness of our Earth’s oceans and how much there’s still to find, or not as the case may be.

[Gizmodo UK, Discovery News]

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