Scientists say Google Earth island in Pacific doesn’t exist

Sandy Island on Google Earth might be a perfect Robinson Crusoe spot. But Australian researchers who went there found only ocean.

Sandy Island lies between Australia and New Caledonia, according to Google Earth. Reality is different.(Credit: Google Earth)
Sandy Island lies between Australia and New Caledonia, according to Google Earth. Reality is different. (Credit: Google Earth)

If you thought Apple’s Maps app might steer you wrong, just watch out if you’re navigating the South Pacific with Google Maps.

It and Google Earth, as well as marine maps and charts, show a feature west of New Caledonia that Australian scientists say is a phantom island.

Sandy Island looks like a gaping hole in the Coral Sea. About 16 miles long, north to south, it could make the perfect beach nirvana.

But the University of Sydney scientists found only ocean 4,620 feet deep when they went to the site while on a research expedition. The depth would preclude the island sinking.

“We wanted to check it out because the navigation charts on-board the ship showed a water depth of 1,400 meters in that area — very deep,” geoscience postdoctoral fellow Maria Seton was quoted as saying by AFP news.

“It’s on Google Earth and other maps so we went to check and there was no island. We’re really puzzled. It’s quite bizarre.

“How did it find its way onto the maps? We just don’t know, but we plan to follow up and find out.”

“We work with a wide variety of authoritative public and commercial data sources to provide our users with the richest, most up-to-date maps possible,” a Google spokesperson said in response to a CNET inquiry about the island. “One of the exciting things about maps and geography is that the world is a constantly changing place, and keeping on top of these changes is a never-ending endeavor.”

Exciting yes, but islands don’t come and go very often.

Sandy Island has featured on maps for at least a decade, but not French government charts. If it did exist, it would be within French territorial waters as New Caledonia is a French territory.

Travel guidebook publishers deliberately include small errors on city maps, such as nonexistent lanes, to protect copyright. The island, however, could be the result of human error, repeated many times. But that wouldn’t explain why it’s on other maps, too.

For instance, it seems to appear on an online map at NOAA’s National Geophysical Data Center.

If Sandy Island does exist, it would make the perfect hideaway. Invisible, undetectable, it could be a Bond villain’s lair, offshore data center, or pirate’s cove. I’ll bet Google staff go there for secret parties.

(Via BBC News)

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