Sunday, July 5, 2020

New maps provide insights into Zealandia, Earth’s lost eighth continent

Zealandia might be considered the lost eighth continent based on the recent mapping of its ocean floor and tectonic profile.

Geophysicist Bruce Luyendyk coined the name Zealandia in 1995. According to Luyendyk, the name was originally intended to refer New Zealand and a collection of submerged chunks of crust that broke off Gondwana about 85 million years ago. Gondwana or Gondwanaland was a massive supercontinent that incorporated present-day Africa, Arabia, South America, India, Madagascar, Australia, and Antarctica. The continent was formed during the late Precambrian period about 600 million years ago and began to break-up during the early Jurassic period about 180 million years ago.

Tectonic plate movements continued to rearrange the landmasses, and in about 30 to 40 million years after it broke from Gondwana, Zealandia found itself under the ocean. Until 2017, Zealandia was classified as a microcontinent similar to Madagascar.

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Recently researchers from GNS Science in New Zealand, led by Nick Mortimer, announced they had mapped the shape and size of the Zealandia, including ocean floor and tectonic plates in unprecedented details. Users can virtually explore the maps on an interactive site for free. According to Mortimer, the maps provide an accurate, complete, and up-to-date geological picture of New Zealand and the southwest Pacific area. This map is part of a global initiative to map the

A tectonic map of Zealandia, which shows the types and age of the crust, major faults, and volcanoes that make up the continent. | Image: GNS Science

Zealandia has all the characteristics of a continent with clearly defined boundaries. It spans nearly 2 million square miles and is elevated above the surrounding ocean crust. Today only 6% of the continent is above the sea level and includes New Zealand’s north and south islands and New Caledonia.

A bathymetric map of Zealandia, which shows the shape of the continent under the water. | Image: GNS Science

According to Mortimer, these maps offer further evidence that Zealandia should be considered the eighth continent.

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Source: Business Insider

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