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11 places on Earth that are still unmapped

The thought of unmapped regions of the globe can send tremors of excitement through the hearts of adventurers. But figuring out the topography of remote or even forgotten regions has important consequences. Namely, it can give us a clearer understanding of the world’s populations, what their needs are, and support organisations in assisting those in need – for example, those providing disaster assistance. Wondering where some of these places are? The crowdsourced Missing Maps Project has mapped over one million kilometres of roads and almost 44 million buildings. But there’s so much that’s still uncharted.

Vale do Javari, Brazil

One of the most isolated parts of the world, according to Mental Floss, is Vale do Javari in Brazil, possibly because as many as 14 uncontacted Amazon tribes make their home in this region. It comprises an area about the size of Austria – or 86,000 square kilometres. An expedition was mounted by Brazil’s agency for indigenous peoples in March 2019, with the goal of easing tensions between two rival indigenous groups, reports The Guardian.

Slums

Look at a map of a city and you’ll find streets and parks and highways and buildings all clearly indicated. But in some cities, that clarity is just an illusion, at least in part. As BBC Future points out, in cities like Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and Lagos in Nigeria, slums are not delineated on maps – because ‘they aren’t a top priority for those living there’. In fact, many of the world’s largest cities have large impoverished communities.

Sandy Island, South Pacific

Some places that do exist don’t show up on maps, while other places that don’t exist do. One recent example is Sandy Island, which BBC reports appears on marine charts and world maps as well as on Google Earth and Google Maps. But when scientists set out to study the island that’s supposed to be located between Australia and New Caledonia, they discovered it isn’t there, and possibly never was. Human error, repeated down the years, is thought to be at fault – although it’s also possible that the island came…then went.

Yucatán Cenotes

This underwater cave system on Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula, thousands of kilometres long, has remained largely unexplored since the time of the Mayans, and doesn’t exist on any maps, according to photographer Klaus Thymann. He’s both begun to explore – a pursuit not without its dangers – and photograph it in order to bring about awareness that will lead to its conservation, he told The Guardian. The rivers that run through the system “form the aquifer of Yucatán and support about 11 different ecosystems”.

Gangkhar Puensum

It’s probably the highest unclimbed mountain in the world, although some people have tried to scale this 3000-metre peak in Bhutan. Like many tall mountains, this one is unmapped – although unlike other mountains, it remains uncharted for spiritual reasons. To locals some areas in the mountains are the refuge of centuries-old Buddhist saints, and the mountains themselves are homes to gods and goddesses. Although climbers hoping to scale tall peaks like this one could use Google Earth to get an idea of what they’re in for, many consider that cheating.

Patagonia, Argentina and Chile

According to Geospatial World, the Patagonia region, which stretches almost all the way to the South Pole, is dotted with rainforests and glaciers so remote and hostile that they’re virtually impossible to chart. “With ice fields comparable to those in the polar regions,” it notes, mapping “is a difficult and dangerous task.”

Northern Forest Complex, Myanmar

Years of economic sanctions against this Southeast Asian country actually succeeded in protecting much of its pristine forest from development, reports Yale e360. But that seems to be changing, with forest disappearing and with it, many vulnerable species. It’s difficult to gauge the damage, though, because with hardly any roads in these areas, few people can get in to assess what’s going on. That means swathes of forest are likely to disappear before it can even be adequately mapped.

Cape Melville, Australia

The ‘lost world’ of Cape Melville is a headland off Queensland, Australia that’s been cut off from exploration by a surrounding wall made of boulders of granite. While they’ve effectively protected its internal rainforest habitat, it also means the area is virtually impossible to map, writes Geospatial World.

North Sentinel Island, India

Due to a local population that’s hostile to outsiders, North Sentinel Island – part of the Andaman Island archipelago between India and Myanmar, remains unexplored (by non-Sentinelese) as well as unmapped. In 2006, a boat carrying two fishermen drifted into the shallows of North Sentinel Island, where they were killed. Since then, there have been other reports of the tribe shooting arrows at passing helicopters.

Coastlines

Even in places where we’ve had accurate maps for decades, climate change – which is causing rising sea levels, intense storms and flooding, and all the erosion those events cause – is actually changing the lay of the coastal land as we once knew it. The question now is, can map makers keep up with the rapid-fire changes?

The Ocean Floor

The ocean floor is vast. The planet’s five ocean basins cover 71 per cent of the earth’s surface. And although we actually have mapped it, that map is distinctly low-res, according to an article in The Conversation. In fact, it’s less detailed than our maps of Mars, the Moon and Venus! That’s because all that pesky water gets in the way of mapping tools. But… oceanographers are working on it.

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