Undiscovering Pacific Island
Normally when you see the word ‘discovery’ in a headline you can be assured of a new point of interest in the next atlas you buy. Not this time, however, after a group of scientists ‘undiscovered’ an island in the south Pacific which has been recorded on maps for over a decade.
The non-existent island is named Sandy Island, and it has been popping up on weather maps, Google Earth, and scientific publications since 2000. Located somewhere between the Australian mainland and the French island of New Caledonia in the eastern Coral Sea, Sandy Island only appears on Google Earth as an black oval.
Scientists aboard the RV Southern Surveyor headed that way last week and found … noting.
“We all had a good laugh at Google as we sailed through the ‘island’,” said Associate Professor Steven Micklethwaite, of University of Western Australia’s Centre for Exploration Targeting. “Then we started compiling information about the seafloor, which we will send to the relevant authorities so we can change the world map.”
The scientific excursion was not centered around discovering or undiscovering the island, but rather focused on collecting submarine data and rock samples from the little explored part of the Coral Sea in the hope of increasing our understanding of the tectonic evolution of the area.
Their interest was piqued, however, when the navigation charts onboard the ship showed a depth of 1400 metres in an area where scientific maps and Google Earth both showed the existence of Sandy Island. Unsurprisingly, given the ship was full of scientists, they went out to explore.
“One of the sources of that map, ironically, is actually the CIA in the US so of course when we discovered this error we had lots of conspiracy theories floating around the ship,” said Micklethwaite. “It certainly caused us to have a good giggle.”
The mission was a success under it’s original auspices as well, uncovering rocks formed approximately 100 million years ago when Australia, Antarctica and New Zealand broke apart. They also found extensive limestones at 3000 metres below the waves, which reveals a massive drowning of the region over time.
Source: University of Western Australia
Image Source: Google Earth