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Googling the Seafloor

Picture of the seabed 450 miles SW of Madeira, taken from Google Earth

Q: I have found a picture taken from Google Earth of the seabed about 450 miles SW of Madeira. It looks so out of place that I am intrigued as to how it was formed.

From Mr Vince Adams (June 2010)

Reply by Prof Tony Watts

You are correct to point out that the image of the seafloor that you downloaded from Google Earth looks out of place. Although the seafloor is punctuated by many seamounts (up to a few hundreds of thousands by some estimates) and the seafloor is quite rough along the mid-ocean ridges and over fracture zones, it is normally quite smooth in the regions in between. Certainly, the features you have seen are very unusual.

They are, in fact, artifacts of the way that Google Earth have gridded the shipboard bathymetry data that they were provided with. We can tell this because the features actually trace out the ship tracks along which the original bathymetry data were acquired. There are ways of gridding unevenly spaced bathymetry data so that the ship tracks are not so visible, but unfortunately Google Earth did not employ them.

You might be interested to know that soon after Google Earth first went "live" with their seafloor images someone else noticed the unusual features and thought they represented lost Atlantis! See the following

The features are not definately Atlantis - just artifacts of Google Earth's data processing!