Friday, November 23, 2012

Australia: Disappearance of Pacific island intrigues scientists

Translated from the Portuguese version by:
Lisa Karpova

Disappearance of Pacific island intrigues scientists

Shipping could not find an island between Australia and New Caledonia which is listed by cartographers in atlases, maps and even Google Earth. A dream common to most explorers and discoverers throughout history has been to find unknown territories, but in Australia, a team of scientists have done just the opposite: they identified an island that does not exist.

Known as Sandy Island, the land mass is listed by cartographers in atlases, maps and even Google Maps and Google Earth, which is located between Australia and New Caledonia (ruled by France), in the South Pacific.

But when the group of scientists decided to navigate to get to it, they did not find it.

For the Navy Hydrographic Service of Australia, responsible for the country's nautical charts, one possibility is that human error has occurred and that such data should be treated "with caution" around the world, since some ancient details are missed or simply wrong.

According to Mary Seton, one of the scientists who are part of the team, the island appears as Sable Island in the Times Atlas of the World Southern Surveyor, and an Australian marine research vessel, also affirms that it exists.

But when deciding to sail towards the site, the vessel also did not see anything.

"We wanted to check, because the navigation charts aboard the ship showed a depth of 1,400 meters in that area, something very profound," says Seton, University of Sydney, after a voyage of 25 days.

"Since it's in Google Earth and other maps and so we went to check, but there was no island. We are really intrigued.'  Its pretty bizarre. Why did it appear on maps? We simply do not know, but we are planning to go back and find out" she added.

Conspiracy Theories

The theory also gained in social networks. On Twitter, the user Charlie Lloyd said that on Yahoo Maps and Bing Maps there also is the island known as Sandy Island, but when you zoom, the territory disappears.

Conspiracy theories among netizens suggest a possible "trick" of cartographers, which include false territories on their maps to know when someone is trying to steal your data.

Others say the hydrographic service of France had already identified that the island did not exist and had requested that it be erased from maps and nautical charts back in 1979.

In response to the controversy, Google said it received welcome feedback from scientists about the map.

"We work with a wide range of data sources and respected people to bring our users the most updated map, rich in detail. One of the most exciting things about maps and geography is that the world is a place in constant transformation, and keeping up with these changes is an endless effort," said a company spokesman.