N. Zealand part of sunken 'lost continent': scientists

Zealandia "lost continent"
Map showing the region where researchers said was a previously unknown continent submerged beneath New Zealand

New Zealand sits atop a previously unknown continent—mostly submerged beneath the South Pacific—that should be recognised with the name Zealandia, scientists said Friday.

Researchers said Zealandia was a distinct geological entity and met all the criteria applied to Earth's seven other continents—elevation above the surrounding area, distinctive geology, a well-defined area and a crust much thicker than that found on the .

In a paper published in the Geological Society of America's Journal, GSA Today, they said Zealandia measured five million square kilometre (1.9 million square miles) and was 94 percent underwater.

The paper's authors said it had only three major landmasses, New Zealand's North and South Islands to the south, and New Caledonia to the north.

The scientists, mostly from the official New Zealand research body GNS Science, said Zealandia was once part of the Gondwana super-continent but broke away about 100 million years ago.

"The scientific value of classifying Zealandia as a continent is much more than just an extra name on a list," they wrote.

"That a continent can be so submerged yet unfragmented makes it (useful)... in exploring the cohesion and breakup of continental crust."

N. Zealand part of sunken 'lost continent': scientists
Spatial limits of Zealandia. Credit: GSA Today (2017). DOI: 10.1130/GSATG321A.1

Lead author Nick Mortimer said scientists have been gathering data to make the case for Zealandia for more than 20 years.

But their efforts had been frustrated because most of it was hidden beneath the waves.

"If we could pull the plug on the oceans, it would be clear to everybody that we have mountain chains and a big, high-standing continent," he told TVNZ.

While there is no scientific body that formally recognises continents, Mortimer said he wanted Zealandia to become an accepted part of how the Earth is viewed.

N. Zealand part of sunken 'lost continent': scientists
Simplified map of Earth’s tectonic plates and continents, including Zealandia. Credit: GSA Today (2017). DOI: 10.1130/GSATG321A.1
"What we hope is that Zealandia will appear on world maps, in schools, everywhere," he said.

"I think the revelation of a new is pretty exciting."


Explore further

Bigger is better for Zealandia's tuatara

More information: Nick Mortimer et al. Zealandia: Earth's Hidden Continent, GSA Today (2017). DOI: 10.1130/GSATG321A.1

© 2017 AFP

Citation: N. Zealand part of sunken 'lost continent': scientists (2017, February 17) retrieved 24 June 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2017-02-zealand-sunken-lost-continent-scientists.html
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User comments

Feb 17, 2017
You're getting slow. RT reported this almost a whole day ago.

Feb 17, 2017
This is exciting! When I was in sixth grade in the late 1960's I remember thinking everything that can be explored has already been explored. If only I had known how wrong I was. And eighth continental land mass is big news! I'm just sorry no mention is given of the of the depth beneath the ocean it is.

Zealandia it is! This I have decreed.

Feb 17, 2017
This is pretty awesome. Just wondering politically why, in this more enlightened age, naming can't defer to the first Maori people's language rather than once again letting the European languages dominate.

Feb 17, 2017
Can anyone estimate how long ago it either sank or was covered by rising seas?

Feb 17, 2017
This is pretty awesome. Just wondering politically why, in this more enlightened age, naming can't defer to the first Maori people's language rather than once again letting the European languages dominate.

Who discovered this submerged chunk of continental crust, Europeans or Maori?

Feb 17, 2017
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

RNP
Feb 17, 2017
@michbaskett
I'm just sorry no mention is given of the of the depth beneath the ocean it is.


The paper says:
"The approximate edge of Zealandia can be placed where the oceanic abyssal plains meet the base of the continental slope, at water depths between 2500 and 4000 m below sea level. "


Feb 17, 2017
The map shows that Zealandia comes really close to Australia. Might they actually have been part of the same continent?

Feb 17, 2017
The 'Mortimer etc' link has full report, no paywall. There's a LOT of extra info. Enjoy !!

Feb 18, 2017
The continent was never 'lost'; it was there and our maps the whole time. We're now looking at the land - both above and below sea level - in a way that's more consistent with the classification system of what constitutes continental land versus oceanic land. It makes sense this chunk of land be considered continental. It fits with the characteristics of the other continents - it's just a bit depressed after suffering significant tension in it's recent life, that's all. I'm sure it'll surface again at some time in the future. In the meantime, be nice to it.

Feb 20, 2017
There are others lost continents like under Maldives.and under the Tibet.
Some older remain to be discovered sunken deeply like near Spain.

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