Friday, November 30, 2012

Auckland Museum solves mapping mystery

Detail from a 1908 chart showing Sandy Island
in the Coral Sea
There's been a lot of talk about the accuracy of maps recently, particularly with regard to Apple's iOS Maps application. In fact Richard Williamson, the guy in charge of the Apple Maps team, recently lost his job. Perhaps he can take some comfort from the fact that maps always contain errors and that cartography, even in the age of satellites, is not always an exact science.
    Recently a story surfaced (no pun intended) about the mysterious disappearance of Sandy Island in the South Pacific. The 26 km long island in the Coral Sea is clearly shown in charts dating back to the 1700s and is shown on Google Earth as a mysterious black lozenge. This year some Australian scientists set out to visit Sandy Island only to find open ocean.
   Auckland Museum has now solved the mystery by studying its archived charts. One of these shows that Sandy Island was discovered by the ship Velocity in 1876. But there is a note on the chart which warns: “Caution is necessary while navigating among the low lying islands of the Pacific Ocean. The general details have been collated from the voyages of various navigators extending over a long series of years. The relative position of many dangers may therefore not be exactly given.”  So it seems that maps always contain errors - perhaps Richard Williamson has a case for unfair dismissal from Apple.

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