Scientists claim discovery of drowned Pacific Ocean continent Zealandia

An illustration provided to Reuters on February 18, 2017 shows what geologists are calling Zealandia (centre), a continent two-thirds the size of Australia, lurking beneath the south-west Pacific. If the finding is accepted by the scientific community, cartographers will have to add an eighth continent to maps and atlases.   | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

A continent two-thirds the size of Australia has been found beneath the south-west Pacific Ocean, scientists reported in the journal of the Geological Society of America.

Known as Zealandia, the land mass of 4.5 million square kilometres (1.74 million square miles) is 94 per cent under water and only its highest points — New Zealand and New Caledonia — poke above the surface.

“It’s rather frustrating for us geologists with the oceans being there,” said Nick Mortimer, a geologist at GNS Science in Dunedin, New Zealand. “If we could pull the plug on the oceans, it would be clear to everyone we have mountain chains and a big high-standing continent above the ocean crust.”

Mr. Mortimer was the lead author of the paper titled Zealandia: Earth's hidden continent which says the new discoveries prove what had long been suspected.

Suspected since the 1920s

“Since about the 1920s, from time to time in geology papers, people used the word ‘continental’ to describe various parts of New Zealand and the Catham Islands and New Caledonia,” Mr. Mortimer said. “The difference now is that we feel we’ve gathered enough information to change ‘continental’ to the noun, ‘continent.’”

Mr. Mortimer said geologists early in the previous century had found granite from sub-Antarctic islands near New Zealand and metamorphic rocks on New Caledonia that were indicative of continental geology. If the recent discovery is accepted by the scientific community, cartographers will probably have to add an eighth continent to future maps and atlases.

“The paper we’ve written unashamedly sticks to empirical observations and descriptions,” Mr. Mortimer said. “The litmus test will really be if ‘Zealandia’ appears in maps and atlases in five or 10 years’ time.”

Split 80 million years ago?

Zealandia is believed to have broken away from Australia about 80 million years ago and sank beneath the sea as part of the break up of the super-continent known as Gondwanaland.

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Printable version | Feb 24, 2021 12:53:47 AM |

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