After almost 375 years, geoscientists have discovered a continent hiding in plain sight. Zealandia, also known as Te Riu-a-Maui in the Maori language, is approximately 1.89 million square miles and was once part of a supercontinent called Gondwana that included Western Antarctica and Eastern Australia over 500 million years ago. However, around 105 million years ago, Zealandia began to “pull away” from Gondwana for reasons that geologists are still trying to understand. Most of the continental fragment is now underwater, but some areas are above sea level, including New Zealand and its surrounding islands.
1642 Dutch businessman and sailor Abel Tasman attempted to uncover the Great Southern Continent. He believed that in the southern hemisphere of our planet, there existed a vast landmass, but he was never able to find it. But it turns out that Tasman was right after all. Geologists have found Zealandia, a vast continent approximately 94 percent under the sea and six times larger than Madagascar.
According to scientists, it is the smallest, thinnest, and youngest of the world’s eight continents. The discovery of Zealandia is a testament to the fact that the Earth is far more complex than we previously thought. The geologists from the New Zealand Crown Research Institute GNS Science made this discovery using the data obtained from dredged rock samples recovered from the ocean floor. The rocks were collected over five years from the bottom of the South Pacific, including New Zealand’s area.
When the researchers analyzed the dredged rock samples, they noticed some had properties typical of continental crust, which differs from ocean-floor sedimentary rocks. The scientists then compared these rocks to those in other places on the globe and discovered that they shared some common characteristics. This led them to suspect that they were examining a previously unidentified continent.
The geologists and seismologists created a newly refined map of Zealandia using this information. They published their findings in the journal Tectonics. The paper is an attempt to officially claim that Zealandia is a separate continent rather than just a series of islands and archipelagos. The research is also essential in understanding how our planet’s landmasses form and change over time. This knowledge can help us better predict future earthquakes and volcanoes. This article is based on a press release from the American Geophysical Union.