A Google Earth official on Saturday denied the London tabloid The Sun's claim on the existence of Atlantis, a legendary island which Plato had described sinking into the ocean "in a single day and night of misfortune" around 9000 BC.
The Sun on Friday published pictures from Google Earth showing what resembles a city street grid on the ocean floor west of Morocco, in an area known as the Madeira Abyssal plane, about 960 km off the African coast.
But Google says the undersea grid lines spotted while browsing Google Earth's ocean maps by an aeronautical engineer from Chester in northwestern England, Bernie Bamford, are data artifacts rather than sunken streets.
"What users are seeing is an artifact of the data collection process," a Google spokesman said. "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. The fact that there are blank spots between each of these lines is a sign of how little we really know about the world's oceans."
In his book Timaeus, Plato describes Atlantis thus: "This great island lay over against the Pillars of Heracles, in extent greater than Libya and Asia put together, and was the passage to other islands and to a great ocean of which the Mediterranean sea was only the harbor; and within the Pillars the empire of Atlantis reached in Europe to Tyrrhenia and in Libya to Egypt."
Plato wrote that the island was struck by violent earthquakes and floods and subsequently sank beneath the sea.
One of the Pillars of Heracles is the rock of Gibraltar, which suggests that the sea west of Morocco would be a likely place for the city to be found, if it ever existed, a historian said.
Google said the area mentioned in The Sun article reflects a mixture of bathymetric data from sonar and satellite altimetry, which provides an estimate of the ocean floor topography based on wave height. The intersection of these two data sets, which do not align perfectly, is what produces the appearance of a street grid.
Similar grid lines can be found in other parts of the ocean where the sea floor has yet to be completely mapped, such as near Hawaii.
Although Google's explanation effectively rebuts The Sun's story, the growing importance of geospatial applications like Google Earth and Google Maps for scientific, cultural, social, and security endeavors should not be discounted.
Google has released a new version of Google Earth that for the first time includes underwater rendering and historical footage.
The underwater bathymetric map allows users to drop below the surface and explore the seafloor in 3D, using public and private data from multiple sources. Mashed into the offering is also video and still images, so you can get an actual view of each spot where available.
Another new feature offered is touring, allowing users to create an easily sharable, narrated, fly-through tour just by clicking the record button and navigating through your tour destinations.
The mapping now turns up many formerly hidden objects, and people have discovered new species, hidden marijuana fields, a suspected shipwreck site, and an old Roman Villa, and Chinese submarines.
As one of Google's attorneys observed last year in the company's recently successful motion to dismiss an invasion-of-privacy lawsuit, "Today's satellite-image technology means that even in today's desert, complete privacy does not exist."
Plato's utopia, an explorer's dream
The story of Atlantis, a fabled utopia destroyed in ancient times, has captured the imagination of scholars ever since it was first described by the philosopher Plato more than 2,000 years ago.
He wrote of a land of fabulous wealth, advanced civilisation and natural beauty. Debate rages over where it might lie, if it existed at all: some say it is near Cuba, off the coast of Cornwall, near Gibraltar or in the middle of the Atlantic.
In 2002, some American researchers claim to have found convincing evidence that locates the site of the lost kingdom of Atlantis off the coast of Cyprus, reported BBC.
The team spent six days scanning the Mediterranean sea bed between Cyprus and Syria using sonar technology.
They say their discoveries match accounts of the city written by Plato.
Team leader Robert Sarmast said the walls appear to be sited on a flat-topped hill where the temples of Atlantis once stood.
"The hill, as a whole, basically looks like a walled, hillside territory and this hillside territory matches Plato's description of the Acropolis hill with perfect precision," he said.
"Even the dimensions are exactly perfect, so if all these things are coincidental, I mean, we have the world's greatest coincidence going on."
Sarmast and his team are not alone in believing they have found the lost city of Atlantis.
Other researchers have placed it off the coast of Spain, Cuba and the south west of England, as well as under the South China Sea.
In June 6, BBC came up with a report that a scientist, Dr Rainer Kuehne, may have found remains of the lost city of Atlantis.
Dr Kuehne thinks the island of Atlantis simply referred to a region of the southern Spanish coast destroyed by a flood between 800 BC and 500 BC.