Australian Scientists Un-Discover Small Island In South Pacific Ocean
November 23, 2012

Australian Scientists Un-Discover Small Island In South Pacific Ocean

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

When it comes to uncharted territory, discovering a new island would seem pretty exciting. But, when you make an un-discovery, you got yourself a whole new ballgame.

That´s what happened in the South Pacific Ocean just recently. A small strip of land, showing up on Google Earth and Google Maps, does not exist, say leading scientists from Australia. The supposedly sizeable land form, called Sable Island by the Times Atlas of the World, is located about midway between Australia and New Caledonia, and has been featured in publications for at least a decade.

But when an expedition was launched to search for the mysterious island, scientists were dumbfounded to find there was nothing there except for the wide open Coral Sea.

Maria Seton, a University of Sydney geologist, said the island has even shown up on weather maps used by the Southern Surveyor, an Australian maritime research vessel. But when she rode to the supposed location aboard that very vessel, the island had seemingly vanished into thin air.

"We became suspicious when the navigation charts used by the ship showed a depth of [4,600 feet] in an area where our scientific maps and Google Earth showed the existence of a large island," said Seton. "Somehow this error has propagated through to the world coastline database from which a lot of maps are made."

While the rest of the world apparently believed there was an island in that very spot, the French government has no mention anywhere of an island existing in that location. And despite the island showing up on weather maps produced by the Southern Surveyor, none of their nautical maps show an island in that location either.

Seton said she was befuddled as to how an un-island had become to be placed on so many maps, but she was determined to get to the bottom of this perplexing mystery.

Australia´s Hydrographic Service, the company that produces the country´s nautical charts and maps, said the island´s appearance on some scientific maps could be the result of human error that had repeatedly been copied down through the years. An AHS spokesperson said that map makers sometimes include phantom streets in their maps to prevent copyright infringements. But in this case, that scenario is unlikely because such practices would reduce confidence in nautical charts and chart makers.

Nabil Naghdy, a spokesman for Google said for their map-making efforts, they consult a variety of authoritative sources before producing their maps. “The world is a constantly changing place, and keeping on top of these changes is a never-ending endeavor,” Naghdy told AFP.

“We all had a good giggle at Google as we sailed through the island, then we started compiling information about the seafloor, which we will send to the relevant authorities so that we can change the world map,” said Steven Micklethwaite from the University of Western Australia.