Unearthing The Secrets Of The Lost Continent Of Zealandia

From the lost utopia of Atlantis to the brimming golds of El Dorado, there are many mythical cities and lands that stories tell us about. There are even some mythical cities that turned out to be actual places, like the city of Troy. But going back further in time, into the ancient and primitive past of humans and even past that, we encounter lost lands that tell us tales of how the creatures of Earth moved and migrated.

One example would be the Bering Land Bridge that might have been used by ancient humans to migrate from Asia to the Americas, the first groups to settle in the Americas about 20,000 years ago. Even larger than that, there used to exist land masses the size of countries and continents. Of those larger masses included Zealandia, which was recently drilled into by scientists to get a better understanding of what it was and the role it played when it existed.

Zealandia

Zealandia was a continent that was part of Gondwana, a supercontinent that existed 200 million years ago. About 85-120 million years ago, Zealandia separated from Antarctica and then separated from Australia about 60 – 85 million years ago. Zealandia was named by Bruce Luyendyk in 1995 as a collective name for New Zealand, the Chatham Rise, Campbell Plateau, and Lord Howe Rise. As of today, 94% of the continent has sunk and only New Zealand, New Caledonia, and other smaller peaks remain as remnants of Zealandia. As Gondwana started to break apart, Zealandia faced its end. It experienced thinning of its crust as a direct result of the supercontinent separation.

Topographic map of Zealandia. Image from Wikipedia/Ulrich Lange, Bochum, Germany. Image licensed under theĀ Creative CommonsĀ CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

Zealandia was previously considered a microcontinent, which are fragments continents that broke off from their main continent. In fact, it was considered largest microcontinent and was more than half the size of the Australian continent. Recently this year, geologists from New Zealand, New Caledonia, and Australia studied Zealandia and concluded that it is a continent in its own right rather than a microcontinent. This classification is important because Zealandia is rarely mentioned or considered in research like those involving continental rifting and continent-ocean boundaries. The new classification might serve to encourage scientists to consider it for study, just as the researchers did here.

Research

To get a better grasp of what Zealandia was like before it sank, Jamie Allen, the program director in the U.S National Science Foundation’s Divison of Ocean Sciences, and his team went on a nine-week voyage that involved drilling deep into the sunken parts of Zealandia. The team drilled over 4,000 feet into the seabed at six different sites and collected over 8,000 feet of sediment cores from layers that recorded the past 70 million years. These sediment cores are similar to those of ice cores collected from the Arctic or Antarctic. The records included the change in geography, volcanic activity, and climate of Zealandia. Given that little was known about Zealandia before, their results were significant.

According to Gerald Dickens, the co-chief scientist on the voyage hailing from Rice University, the researchers found thousands of fossils that ranged from microscopic shells of animals that lived in shallow seas to pollen and spores from plants on the land. Of the over 8,000 fossils found, hundreds were identified. This all works together to prove that Zealandia was not always the sunken continent that it is today. It used to be above the sea and thrived with life. This also could potentially explain the biodiversity of the South Pacific as Zealandia once connected the many islands and Australia to the larger mainlands. This would have allowed many different animals to migrate from what is now Asia to those land masses.

Among the other discoveries that were made, the research also highlights the creation of the Pacific Rim of Fire 40-50 million years ago as it caused changes in ocean depth, volcanic activities and the buckled Zealandia seabed. The research also seems to indicate that Zealandia was already submerged with it separated from Antarctica and Australia about 80 million years ago.

The Pacific Ring of Fire, which includes Zealandia. (Wikipedia) Image by gringer is licensed under the Public Domain.

Further Research

With the sediment cores acquired, the researchers can continue to study it for additional information. Given how long of a time record it has captured, they can study the mechanics of the global climate system, tectonic plate movements, and also create computer models to understand climate change from then and now. With this research and the new classification, it is anticipated that other experiments to analyze this region will be underway.

The new classification as a continent and the initial data from this research helps to show the importance of understanding land masses that have sunken away existing land masses. The historical data they hold would be able to inform us on many things, such as the areas the researchers are currently working on and things like ancient human and animal migration patterns. These sunken land masses also help us to understand how fossils of species not native to the land they are found it got there. Places like Doggerland, that once connected England with the mainland of Europe, sank because of rising sea levels. If we could take core samples from there, it would probably be able to tell us about the climate changes that occurred since it sank in 6,500 BCE – 6,200 BCE. Given the timeline of when it sank, it might also hold valuable data on human migration patterns in that region as well.

The cost of dismissing lost or sunken land masses means that we could be blinding ourselves to valuable information like those found here. Not only that, if we continue to look for other lost land masses and study we already know about, we could uncover more secrets about the formation of the continents and the lives that thrived on them.

As wild as it is to imagine, we could find places that were once mythical. Perhaps there is more truth to Atlantis than we know. Hopefully, this expedition and others like it will encourage more funding to be funneled into these areas.

About The Author

Mohendra Shiwnarain

Mohendra has a Bachelor's degree in Biology and a Masters in Biotechnology. Growing up, he enjoyed learning as much as he could from any and all topics. He has gone on many Wikipedia rabbit holes, scouring to find more interesting facts than the last. He writes to both learn and lead others into their own search of scientific knowledge, both mundane and interesting.

Speak Your Mind!

READ THIS NEXT

Is There A Hereditary Link Between Testicular And Ovarian Cancer?

Our research group at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, led by Kirsten Moysich, PhD, MS, is specifically interested in studying risk factors involved in the development of ovarian cancer, from genetic and modifiable risk factors to comorbidities and family histories of other cancers. Using data from the Familial Ovarian Cancer Registry at Roswell Park, we […]

Fuzzy Model Of Residential Energy Decision-Making:Ā Considering Behavioral Economic Concepts

As residential buildings can account for up to 50% of the total energy consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in an economy, there is a need for the development and implementation of policies to encourage households towards pro-environmental energy-saving behavior. However, such policies in practice often fail to take into account behavioral economic insights but […]

A Brown Alga That Controls Stress To Keep Its Shape

To maintain its shape and grow, a cell needs strength. While animals, whose cells are “bare,” rely mainly on their cytoskeleton, organisms like fungi, plants, and algae are constrained by the presence of an envelope, the cell wall, which can be very rigid. Some of these walled organisms develop filaments made of an aligned cell, […]

Coral-Reef Growth In South Florida Has Been Stalled For 3,000 Years

Floridaā€™s reefs are now at risk of eroding away Over the last 50 years, coral bleaching, disease, and other human disturbances have caused declines in coral populations that are without precedent in the history of coral-reef science. The ecological degradation of coral-reef ecosystems around the world has now reached a point where further declines are […]

Coal Fly Ash Cenospheres For Immobilization Of Alkaline Radioactive Waste In Mineral-Like Compounds

Alkaline high-level wastes are produced inĀ nuclear fuel reprocessing plants as a result of the neutralization of initially acidic solutions with sodium hydroxide. The typical neutralized alkaline wastes are tank supernatants in the United States at DOE sites (Hanford, Savannah River, Oak Ridge) having the actual NaOH concentration of 0.75 to 7 M. Radioactive alkaline solutions […]

Sea Lion Vs Seal: Here’s The Difference

When comparing a sea lion vs. seal you can spot the difference a few ways, one of which is the lack or presence of an ear. Seals lack an external ear flap whereas sea lions have an external ear flap that is visible. In addition, sea lions have a loud bark and walk on their […]

Study Of Aspirational Pursuits In Dating Defines What “Out Of Your League” Means

Online dating sites have become a large part of how people meet one another and start relationships, with some estimates saying that approximately 20% of all people in committed relationships met their partner online. In order to gain insights about how people interact over online dating platforms, researchers from the University of Michigan analyzed data […]