November 20, 2017
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Australia Is Nowhere Near Where You Think It Is

By Kate Ryan


We’ve had issues with inaccurate maps and globes in the past, but this error is quite the doozy. According to The New York Times, the land from down under isn’t as far down as we might’ve thought. But that doesn’t mean it was always this way. Apparently, Australia sits on one of the fastest-moving tectonic plates in the world, and since the last coordinate adjustments were made in 1994, the country has shifted by an startling 4.9 feet.

While all of us are moving incrementally all the time, Australia seems to be racing everyone back to Pangaea with a northward trajectory and a speed of about 2.7 inches per year. To give you some perspective, the U.S. (along with the rest of North America) only shifts about one inch a year. Because some countries move faster than others, GPS systems require frequently updated longitude and latitude coordinates to remain accurate sources of information.

National Geographic director of cartography Damien Saunder told the publication, “When there is a significant shift in land masses over time we need to revise the models of the Earth from which GPS coordinates are calculated, so for example your neighbor doesn't end up with your old coordinates.” The Times reports that in the past 50 years, cartographers have corrected Australia’s coordinates a total of four times. Though you could certainly make the case for more regular updates considering a 656-foot adjustment was made when the maps were last corrected in 1994.

While the most recent 4.9-foot adjustment isn’t likely to throw anyone dramatically off course today, the super-detailed GPS systems of tomorrow will probably have higher standards.


- Originally appeared at GOOD.is