Geoscientists have made an incredible discovery after almost 375 years, proving the presence of a continent that has previously escaped detection. According to Phys.org, a tiny team of committed geologists and seismologists has methodically constructed an updated map of Zealandia, also known as Te Riu-a-Maui. This astonishing discovery was made possible by analysing data generated from dredging rock samples recovered from the ocean below, and their findings were published in the journal Tectonics.
According to the BBC, Zealandia is a massive continent that spans 1.89 million square miles (4.9 million square kilometres), making it roughly six times the size of Madagascar. The scientists who made this ground-breaking discovery claim that with the addition of Zealandia, the Earth now has eight continents. This recent addition stands out in the records since it is the world’s smallest, thinnest, and youngest continent.
Notably, Zealandia is mostly buried beneath the ocean’s surface, with just a small portion of its landmass visible as islands, similar to New Zealand. Andy Tulloch, a geologist from the New Zealand Crown Research Institute GNS Science who played a key part in this finding, accurately stated, “This is an example of how something very obvious can take a while to uncover,” as reported by BBC.
The search of information about Zealandia has long presented scientists with significant challenges. Researchers have turned to the investigation of collections of rocks and sediment samples recovered from the ocean floor to get understanding into this undiscovered continent. These samples come from a range of places, with some acquired during drilling trips and others obtained from the coastlines of nearby islands.
According to Phys.org, the investigation of these rock samples revealed fascinating geologic patterns in West Antarctica, indicating to the possibility of a subduction zone near the Campbell Plateau, which is located off the western coast of New Zealand. Notably, despite these patterns, the researchers found no magnetic anomalies in this location, which contradicts notions about the Campbell Fault being a strike-slip fault.
The newly updated map of Zealandia not only pinpoints the position of the continent’s magmatic arc axis, but also exposes other major geological features that were previously hidden from view.
Zealandia’s origins may be traced back to the ancient supercontinent Gondwana, which formed roughly 550 million years ago and united all landmasses in the southern hemisphere into a single landmass.