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When Donald MacMillan, Fitzhugh Green, Ittukisuk and Piauatsoq set off in the spring of 1914 to find Crocker Land, traveling by dog sledge across the sea ice was the only feasible way to determine if it really existed.

I have always assumed that had they had access to modern technology – from helicopters to satellite imagery – the long, dangerous, and expensive trip across the sea ice would have been unnecessary. It turns out I was wrong.

According to the BBC as recently as 2012, oceanographers from The University of Sydney traveled by ship to visit “Sandy Island” some 300 km off the west coast of New Caledonia. The island appeared on Google Maps and Google Earth, and on some but not all maps of the region. When the vessel arrived at the location, they found nothing there but deep ocean. The appearance of the island is attributed to human error over the years, and the dark blip that once appeared in Google Earth is now gone (although if you search for Sandy Island, New Caledoina, it will still take you there).

Google Earth screen shot showing location of the phantom "Sandy Island" , created December 3, 2014.

Google Earth screen shot showing location of the phantom “Sandy Island” , created December 3, 2014.

Modern technology might have made MacMillan’s job a bit easier, but even today, there is no substitute for ground truthing!