Scientific Expedition Unlocks The Secrets Of The Lost Continent Of Zealandia

Posted: Sep 29 2017, 2:11pm CDT | by , Updated: Sep 30 2017, 5:00am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
Scientific Expedition Unlocks the Secrets of the Lost Continent of Zealandia
A map of the world showing the region of Zealandia. Credit: Nick Mortimer/GNS Science

The analysis of fossil record suggests that Zealandia was not always buried beneath the ocean

In July this year, a team of researchers set sail for Zealandia – a submerged region located in the east of Australia that has never been properly explored. After nine weeks, researchers have now returned from the expedition and are revealing the secrets of the lost continent.

The team drilled into the crust of vast underwater plateau and suggested that Zealandia was not always buried beneath the South Pacific as we know it today.

“Zealandia, a sunken continent long lost beneath the oceans, is giving up its 60 million-year-old secrets through scientific ocean drilling," said Jamie Allan, program director in the U.S. National Science Foundation's Division of Ocean Sciences.

"This expedition offered insights into Earth's history, ranging from mountain-building in New Zealand to the shifting movements of Earth's tectonic plates to changes in ocean circulation and global climate.”

Zealandia, which is about two-thirds the size of Austria, was once part of the supercontinent of Gondwana that broke apart around 100 million years ago. The idea of a potential continent in this region has been always around but was never identified.

Earlier this year, researchers confirmed the existence of the lost continent and named it Zealandia. However, very little is known about Zealandia because most of its landmass lies deep beneath the Pacific Ocean. Until now, the region has only sparsely surveyed and sampled.

During the recent expedition, researchers drilled deep into the seabed at six sites in water depths of more than 4,101 feet and recovered sediments and rock samples that contained hundreds of fossilized species.

The fossil record was thoroughly analyzed and it allowed researchers to understand the history, extreme climates, sub-seafloor life, plate tectonics and earthquake-generating zones of the region, revealing that the geography of Zealandia has changed more recently than anyone had thought.

“More than 8,000 specimens were studied, and several hundred fossil species were identified," said co researcher Gerald Dickens from Rice University.

"The discovery of microscopic shells of organisms that lived in warm shallow seas, and of spores and pollen from land plants, reveal that the geography and climate of Zealandia were dramatically different in the past.”

Researchers also believe that Zealandia is also an important region to study changes in climate at global scale. The Pacific "Ring of Fire", a hotspot for volcanoes and earthquakes, that formed some 40 to 50 million years ago had a dramatic influence on ocean depths and the species living inside them.

“Big geographic changes across northern Zealandia, which is about the same size as India, have implications for understanding questions such as how plants and animals dispersed and evolved in the South Pacific,” said expedition co-chief scientist Rupert Sutherland of Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand.

“The discovery of past land and shallow seas now provides an explanation. There were pathways for animals and plants to move along."

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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