1. What’s Wrong With Google Maps?

The North Pole should be white, not blue

The North Pole has been frozen white for 700,000 years, but Google Maps satellite view and Google Earth show it as blue. This is inaccurate.

Google Maps North Pole
The problem illustrated in one picture. The North Pole should be white, not blue.

In a nutshell – Google Maps shows you the ocean floor, not a satellite view

The problem is that Google shows the topography of the ocean floor in “satellite view” and on Google Earth. While this is helpful for other oceans, it’s confusing for the Arctic.

fixmaps nutshellThe Arctic Ocean has 7 million square kilometers of sea ice, sadly, due to rising temperatures and drastic environmental destruction, this natural wonder is expected to vanish by the year 2050. Few people outside of the scientific world are aware of this issue; as this beautiful Arctic landscape is not shown on maps.

The solution

The solution is for Google to show Arctic sea ice on Maps. Google can get the data from the NSIDC. This organization updates Arctic sea ice data daily, weekly, monthly and yearly. Google Maps should show sea ice imagery for the Arctic Ocean, and ocean floor imagery for all the other unfrozen oceans.

Why does this matter?

Map fidelity is crucial to educate everyone about the impact of ice melting in the fragile Arctic. Findings from a 2007 research report (via Telegraph) predict that polar bears  will cease to exist in the wild if we do not protect their ice habitat.

It’s an algorithm problem for Google

The principle problem with online maps is a mapping algorithm that paints a solid blue color across much of the Arctic. Take a look at this Greenland map link. Notice how the white of Greenland looks natural, and the blue of the surrounding ocean looks unnatural?

Screen Shot 2015-08-19 at 7.01.33 PM

Here’s an animated gif of the same problem. Notice that the blue color looks out of place next to the arctic satellite imagery. That’s because the blue color isn’t satellite imagery at all. Google is showing you a blue color. It should paint the Arctic Ocean white, as it’s been frozen for 700,000 years.

Google maps provide satellite imagery for the Arctic land and a blue color for the Arctic Ocean. The blue color is not satellite imagery.

Google Maps shows ice elsewhere

You might be asking yourself, should Google show ice at all? Yes, it should and it already does. In other parts of the world, maps correctly show permanent ice fields in their correct color, that is, white. Just take a look at Mount Everest. The world’s tallest mountain has been perennially white as long as the Arctic Ocean, and it’s correctly colored white. Why then is the Arctic colored blue?

Screen Shot 2015-08-19 at 7.13.41 PM


Google’s data inaccuracy is visible on your phone

Screen Shot 2015-08-19 at 7.49.46 PM

What map experts are saying

Expert 1 >

“Online maps have a problem with the polar projection, you can see large artifacts (distortions) towards the poles.”

Professor Martin Jakobsson, Head of the Department of Geological Sciences and the main contact at the IBCAO, the organization listed in fine print at the bottom of Google Maps when zoomed into the Arctic.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? To this author, this means the imagery can’t be plotted which is why mapping companies paint the area blue.


Expert 2 >

 “Google satellite view is satellite imagery, aerial photography, elevation data, and underwater topography.”

Kara Csibrik, National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). Her Boulder, Colorado based organization provides overlays for Google Maps to see accurate depictions of polar ice.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? To this author, the mapping companies should use only satellite imagery for satellite views of the Arctic, not underwater topography – too confusing. Google can show underwater topography for the other oceans.

We can’t protect what we can’t see

We can’t teach what we don’t understand, and we can’t understand what we can’t see. There’s a strong connection between data accuracy, education, and change. Right now, we can’t see the Arctic ice on Google Maps so it’s not being saved.

Projections in 2007 indicated that by the middle of the century loss of Arctic ice will have reduced the 22,000 polar bear population by two-thirds. Eventually as temperatures rose it would be too late to prevent a catastrophic melting of sea ice, and the bears could vanish altogether. The findings led to the polar bear being listed as a threatened species in 2008. [via Telegraph]

A polar bear on melting ice, Picture: © Paul Souders/Corbis

Aren’t online petitions a waste of time? No.

Signing online petitions has caused positive change in the world. For example, Delta Airlines recently banned shipments of hunting trophies after the Cecile lion killing because of a change.org campaign against exotic trophy hunting.

Urge Google to increase the fidelity of Maps

It’s time to urge Google to increase the fidelity of Maps to educate everyone about the melting Arctic sea ice. Urge google to show what’s actually happening to the Arctic in Google Maps.

Let’s petition Google to fix their maps, showing Arctic sea ice and creating a tool to raise global awareness before it’s too late. We still have time to stop Arctic sea melt and reverse the devastating effects.




After signing the petition you might enjoy reading, How Fast Is the Arctic Melting? [Time Lapse Video].