The Lost City of Atlantis Lost Again as Google Ocean Updated

Michael Santo's picture

The Lost City Atlantis is now gone for good (or perhaps at least until a new Google Earth update resurrects it).

Way back in 2009, after Google unveiled Google Ocean, the feature set for its Google Earth program, a section of the undersea floor was found that --- to some --- looked to be the Lost City of Atlantis. While that undersea fantasy bubble was popped long ago, with not just Google, but two scientists that Google asked to comment dashing those hopes, it now appears that an update to Google Ocean has completely erased any trace of the "undersea kingdom."

The erasure happened earlier this week, when the update was announced. In a post to Google's Lat Long blog, the Internet giant announced that, to mark the third anniversary of Google Earth's Google Ocean feature, the company had released a “major update” that promised users "a clearer view of the seafloor in Google Earth."

Google even mentioned Atlantis in its post about the new update. The company said,

"You may remember a Sun article reporting the discovery of a street grid where it’s believed the lost city of Atlantis would have been located off the West Coast of Africa. The discovery turned out to be a data artifact related to the way data was collected from a ship sailing back and forth to survey an unknown area. This recent seafloor update has been improved to blend better, and 'Atlantis' has again disappeared into legend."

That is how Google described Atlantis, or at least the imagery that some thought was the Lost City of Atlantis before: as a "data artifact."

Their original explanation was:

"It's true that many amazing discoveries have been made in Google Earth, including a pristine forest in Mozambique that is home to previously unknown species and the remains of an ancient Roman villa. In this case, however, what users are seeing is an artifact of the data collection process. Bathymetric (or sea floor terrain) data is often collected from boats using sonar to take measurements of the sea floor. The lines reflect the path of the boat as it gathers the data."

To add to that, the two scientists that Google brought in a few days later said basically the same thing:

"So what is it? The scientific explanation is a bit less exotic, but we think it's still pretty interesting: these marks are what we call 'ship tracks.' By measuring the time it takes for sound to travel from a ship to the sea floor and back, you can get an idea of how far away the sea floor is. Since this process — known as echosounding — only maps a strip of the sea floor under the ship, the maps it produces often show the path the ship took, hence the 'ship tracks.' In this case, the soundings produced by a ship are also about 1% deeper than the data we have in surrounding areas --- likely an error --- making the tracks stand out more. "

What the heck are they saying? They can't really see that far down with a camera. Instead they map the topography of the ocean floor using sound waves, which as the data is correlated, sometimes causes overlaps that make it look like lines, but are actually overlaps in the data, which when brought together, can cause erroneously track like marks.

An error --- or the "X-Files?" Conspiracy theorists will wonder if the update to the map is the result of a cover-up. We'll see if there are more 'ship tracks' soon. The next major upgrade fo the software is planned for later this year, and will use a new calculation technique that returns depth predictions that are two times as accurate as before.

Image Source: Past Google Ocean Screenshot

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