Is Google Maps' Undiscovered Island Really Non-Existent?
It's a black smudge now on Google Maps - a pox upon the typically accurate free mapping service. Sandy Island, the island that once was, is now gone. Or is it?
When researcher Steven Micklethwaite and his fellow crewmembers set out to investigate the tectonic activity of the sea bed between Australia and New Caledonia, they decided to set course for a small strip of land shown on their navigation charts as Sandy Island. When they got there, the island was nowhere to be seen.
Referencing Google Maps, Micklethwaite and crew saw the island listed on Map view, but in Satellite view the island had no characteristic imagery - simply a black blob. Wondering if the island had simply receded under water (and to avoid colliding with a hidden sandbar), they performed depth readings for the area, and found it to be 4,620 feet deep. No underwater island, no way. Micklethwaite and crew chalked Sandy Island up to cartographic error, and went on their way.
So where did Sandy Island go? Was its inclusion on maps like Google's really a mistake? Were the researchers off-course a bit? Or did a once-visible island sink underwater?
When you view the Google Maps data in satellite view (above), you can see obvious topographic data indicating a buildup of land off of the deep ocean floor, coming to a head just where the blacked out area occurs when in satellite view. The lightness of the topography is based on depth, with lighter regions closer to the surface. If you look at the topography surrounding Sandy Island, you'll see it's demarcated as approximately as deep as regions that breach the surface of the ocean - hardly over 4,000 feet deep as the researchers stated they found the area to be.
One of the earliest maps stating the existence of Sandy Island was recently located at the Auckland Museum, and dates back to 1876, when the ship Velocity charted it. At the time, the island was stated to be bigger than what Google Maps and others listed it. Perhaps an indication of a sinking island?
Once visible islands sinking below the depths and out of view is nothing new. In fact, rising ocean levels or sand-eating mega-storms can easily swamp an island as high as 2 meters above sea level, as happened with a disputed island between India and Bangladesh in 2010. Six islands in the Carteret chain are also slowly going out of view, displacing its residents.Continued on the next page