Science

Google Maps Lists Pacific Island Reminiscent Of 'Lost,' And Equally Non-Existent

By Alexandra Burlacu , Nov 25, 2012 10:41 AM EST
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According to scientists, the South Pacific island about the size of Manhattan is clearly mapped on Google Maps and marine charts, but it doesn't exist.

Google Maps lists the puzzling island as "Sandy Island," some other maps list it as "Sable Island," but it all seems to be a mirage. An Australian scientific vessel recently sailed to (and through) the reported coordinates, but the supposed 60-square miles island was nowhere to be found.

"We saw this mysterious island on all the scientific maps and weather maps but not on this one navigational chart that was on our ship," Sabin Zahirovic, a PhD student on the research team boarding the RV Southern Surveyor, told CNN. "So we decided to go see if it was actually there."

The international team of scientists was led by Dr. Maria Seton of the University of Sydney, and the "undiscovery" of the island was not even part of the team's research mission. The implications, however, are of significant proportions. As Zahirovic explained, all scientific cartography relies on these maps, and the size of these land forms determines the numerical simulations of waves and currents.

"We wanted to check it out because the navigation charts on board the ship showed a water depth of 1,400 meters (4,620 feet) in that area - very deep," Seton told AFP after the 25-day voyage. "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."

The phantom island seems like the real-life version of the fictional island from popular TV series "Lost." The series features a group of strangers who end up on a Pacific island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The fictional island can disappear, or make itself invisible to outsiders searching for it. "Lost" fans will likely have a field day with the recent "undiscovery."

If the phantom island did exist, it would be in French territorial waters, but the French government denies ever listing the island in any of its official maps.

The island appears on Google, Yahoo, and Bing Maps, but apparently it disappears on Bing Maps when zooming in. The situation has generated a number of theories, including a potential trick to prevent copyright infringement.

Such tactics are fairly common on street maps, when phantom streets are sometimes added to detect counterfeiters. For nautical charts, however, the practice is highly unusual, especially since these maps rely on strict accuracy.

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