Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The island that isn't

When the whaler Velocity returned from a voyage in the Pacific in 1876, the ship's master reported the sighting of some "Sandy Islets," which were included 3 years later in an Australian maritime directory. Said to extend north and south "along the meridian 159º 57' E" and "between lat 19º 7' S and 19º 20' S," Sandy Island became established when it was charted near New Caledonia on a 1908 British Admiralty chart (IMAGE ABOVE), though later charts from the U.K. Hydrographic Office attached the internationally recognized abbreviation "ED" (existence doubtful). Although France removed it from its maps, Sandy Island persisted in global databases after geographic information was digitized. The phantom island – now believed to have been a floating raft of pumice or a cartographer's trick to trap copyright violators – has now been officially "undiscovered." In 2012, researchers aboard the Australian national research vessel RV Southern Surveyor spent 25 days mapping the sea floor and collecting rock samples to understand the tectonic evolution of that corner of the Pacific. Maria Seton of the University of Sydney and her colleagues noticed some discrepancies on their charts and decided to test the existence of the landmass reported to be the size of Manhattan. Steven Micklethwaite of the University of Western Australia recalls, "We all had a good giggle at Google as we sailed through the island."


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