Category Archives: Traveling

Where did it go? Scientists ‘undiscover’ Pacific island

By Nicky Phillips

Most explorers dream of discovering uncharted territory, but a team of Australian scientists have done the exact opposite.

They have found an island that doesn’t exist.

Even onboard the ship, the weather maps the captain had showed an island in this location. -Dr Maria Seton, University of Sydney

The island, named Sandy Island on Google Earth, also exists on marine charts and world maps and allegedly sits between Australia and New Caledonia in the south Pacific.

The island that isn’t … how it is highlighted on a map

But when the voyage’s chief scientist, Maria Seton, and her crew sailed past where the island should be, they found nothing but blue ocean.

“We became suspicious when the navigation charts used by the ship showed a depth of 1400 metres in an area where our scientific maps and Google Earth showed the existence of a large island,” Dr Maria Seton, a geologist from the University of Sydney, said.

“Somehow this error has propagated through to the world coastline database from which a lot of maps are made.”

The missing island has regularly appeared in scientific publications since at least 2000.

Chief scientist Dr Maria Seton on board the RV Southern Surveyor.

“Even onboard the ship, the weather maps the captain had showed an island in this location,” Dr Seton said.

Neither the French government – the invisible island would sit within French territorial waters if it existed – nor the ship’s nautical charts, which are based on depth measurements, had the island marked on their maps.

Dr Seton had no idea how the island came to be on so many maps, but she is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery.

Steven Micklethwaite from the University of Western Australia said, “We all had a good giggle at Google as we sailed through the island, then we started compiling information about the seafloor, which we will send to the relevant authorities so that we can change the world map.”

Mike Prince, the director of charting services for the Australian Hydrographic Service, a department within the Navy that produces the country’s official nautical charts, said the world coastline database incorporated individual reports that were sometimes old or contained errors.

“We take anything off that database with a pinch of salt,” he said.

While some map makers intentionally include phantom streets to deter copyright infringements, that was not standard practice with nautical charts, said Mr Prince.

“[That would] reduce confidence in what is actually correct,” he said.

Nabil Naghdy, the product manager of Google Maps for Australia and New Zealand, said Google Earth consulted a variety of authoritative public and commercial data sources in building its maps.

“The world is a constantly changing place, and keeping on top of these changes is a never-ending endeavour,” Mr Naghdy said.

He encouraged users to alert Google to incorrect entires using the ‘Report a Problem’ tool, found at the bottom right corner of the map, which they would then confirm with other users or data providers.

The discovery took place onboard the RV Southern Surveyor, Australia’s Marine National Facility research vessel, during a 25-day research trip in the eastern Coral Sea.

Large fragments of eastern Australia split from the mainland as the Tasman Sea formed about 100 million years ago, when Australia split apart from the super continent Gondwana, which included Antarctica, India and Africa.

“This dispersed all the continental fragments in the area, which subsided and [went] below sea level,” Dr Seton, who docked in Brisbane on Monday, said.

“We went to find those fragments of our country,” she said.

The team collected 197 different rock samples, more than 6800 km of marine geophysical data and mapped over 14,000 square kilometres of the ocean floor.

They also recovered limestone, which forms from near surface coral reefs, from a depth of three kilometres.

“That means we’ve had this massive drowning of the area. That’s was a surprising discovery,” said Dr Seton.


Reverse Culture Shock: readjusting to life back home

by Kate Merrick

Last year I was a teaching assistant in Laon, a small town in Picardie. As I nervously negotiated my first weeks there, assimilating to a new job and a new culture at the same time, had someone told me that it would be harder to leave than it was to arrive, I would have told them they were crazy.

My first three weeks were a blur of paperwork, photocopying cards and introduction classes that left me feeling both exhilarated and exhausted. There was the occasional class who had unanimously decided to meet this strange English girl with a wall of silence. But, by and large, I won them over. The challenge of getting and keeping my students’ attention, especially with the more boring topics, went from intimidating to exciting. When my students (and I) had a great class, both in the sense of learning and having fun, I left feeling proud of them and satisfied that I had achieved my aim.

Then there were the cultural adaptations: little things like not backing away as my colleagues lent forwards for the “bises” (kissing on both cheeks), finding out the hard way that Laon is closed on a Sunday, finding a good quality, four course lunch in the school canteen, learning to shrug it off when the many strikes prevented me from getting a train/bus/having more than two students show up for my class. But I got used to the “bises” and making sure I had food in for the weekend. I got used to my main meal being at lunchtime, always followed by a hot chocolate and a chat in the staffroom. I even got used to the strikes, which occasionally messed up my carefully prepared classes and my equally carefully prepared travel plans. In fact, I got so used to all of this so quickly that any hint of culture shock was absorbed and balanced out by the amazing new experiences I was caught up in.

So you can imagine my surprise when, on returning home in May, I felt somehow out of place. I found myself having to think about how to greet people (Hug? Kiss? Handshake?…it was so much easier when I could just kiss them on each cheek). I was put off eating out (really, those rubbishy ingredients and they want to charge how much for it?! My school canteen was better than that!). Most of all, I was at a loss (no more lesson plans?! But I have so many ideas…). Even things as basic as how people dressed in France had permeated my subconscious to such an extent that I threw out half of my wardrobe as soon as I got home without even trying any of it on.

This grumpy restlessness continued on and off throughout the summer holidays. I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was my home, so there must be something wrong with me if I couldn’t fit back in, right? Then I started my final year of uni. To my immense relief, when I confided in others on my course about this “off” feeling, no one told me I was losing it and almost everyone agreed: it was culture shock. Some people hadn’t noticed the culture shock either way, some had had trouble adapting in their year abroad countries, but those who felt it coming home had found it particularly hard to deal with. Not least, because they weren’t expecting it. No one warns you that coming home from a culture you have integrated into can be equally or more stressful than integrating in the first place.

So this is me warning you, and telling you what I wish I had known last summer: maybe it won’t affect you, but if you do feel this way, you are not alone. As off-putting as it can be, it is perfectly normal to feel culture shock on leaving for or on returning from your year abroad. Try to see it as proof that you are taking a little bit of your cultural experience with you. And above all don’t let it get you down, because the culture shock will pass and when it does, you will be left with the wonderful memories of your year abroad and, if you can control your reaction to culture shock better than I did, a fully intact wardrobe.