Google clears up Atlantis debris

Google contacts experts to respond to rampant speculation that an ocean grid found on Google Earth might be the lost city of Atlantis.

Guess this is the kind of tech news people really want to read.

CNET News had an overwhelming response to the post about Google denying that its Google Earth ocean-floor mapping software had unearthed the mythical sunken island of Atlantis.

I'm talking dozens of comments, 6,000+ Diggs, and an inbox full of fun messages containing everything from alternate theories to moral support from fellow Lost fans who want to see the show's array of wacky maps explained (blast door, please!) It was great to hear from you all, and thanks for chiming in.

Without a doubt, Google was swamped by even more conspiracy-theory feedback, and ultimately they pulled in Walter Smith of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and David Sandwell of UC San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography, two scientists who helped gather some of the ocean-floor data in Google Earth, to clear it all up in a post on the company's official blog.

"Some have speculated that these are the plow marks of seafloor farming by aliens," the post said of the undersea grid pattern off the coast of northwest Africa that had sparked the speculation. "One theory that's gained more traction is that these marks might be the ruins of the lost city of Atlantis. If that were the case, some of the city blocks would have to be over eight miles long--that's about fifty times the size of a city block in New York City."

The blog post expanded on Google's original explanation of the odd formation: "These marks are what we call 'ship tracks,'" it explained. "You see, it's actually quite hard to measure the depth of the ocean. Sunlight, lasers, and other electromagnetic radiation can travel less than 100 feet below the surface, yet the typical depth in the ocean is more than two and a half miles. Sound waves are more effective. 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.'"

There are other "ship track" patterns visible on Google Earth ocean maps, Smith and Sandwell added, like one off the coast of Hawaii.

But the post refused to outright deny that Atlantis might yet be found through the use of Google Earth. Google is hoping that the resolution of undersea footage will continue to improve, which will take both money and time. "It's great to have so many sets of eyes looking at the data currently in Google Earth and asking questions about what it represents," the blog post concluded. "We and our fellow oceanographers are constantly improving the resolution of our seafloor maps, so we promise to work with Google to keep the virtual explorers out there busy." In other words: never stop searching.

In bygone centuries there were the likes of Magellan and Columbus and Marco Polo. These days, I suppose, we have Google.

This blog was originally posted on CNET News.