Explorers Probe Hidden Continent of Zealandia

Zealandia made international headlines earlier this yr when scientists introduced that it counts as a brand new continent.

Now it’s coming beneath nearer scientific scrutiny. We’re presently midway by way of an expedition to drill into this huge underwater plateau of continental crust, and we will already reveal that Zealandia’s geography modified extra dramatically and extra lately than anybody had thought.

Earth’s hidden continent

There are seven continents on Earth: Eurasia, North America, South America, Africa, Antarctica, Australia and now Zealandia. Zealandia is about two-thirds the dimensions of Australia, however ninety four% of it lies deep under the southwest Pacific Ocean. Its solely main landmasses are New Zealand to the south and New Caledonia to the north.

Little or no is understood about it, as a result of most of it lies greater than a kilometre deep beneath the Pacific Ocean. The Zealandia continent additionally encompasses some smaller bits of land, together with Norfolk Island, the Lord Howe group and a few sub-antarctic islands. These islands have been found a whole lot of years in the past, however the submerged half was solely recognised as a continent in current many years. It stays sparsely surveyed and sampled. We’ve higher maps of the moon.

We’re a group of 32 scientists from 12 totally different nations and our expedition is a part of the Worldwide Ocean Discovery Program, which coordinates seagoing explorations of Earth’s historical past recorded in sediments and rocks beneath the ocean flooring. Our ship, the Joides Decision is a floating village and laboratory, outfitted with a drill rig that may take core samples from the seafloor. The samples we’ve got collected to date present clear indicators of main geographic modifications and volcanic eruptions that have been associated to formation of the Pacific Ring of Hearth, a sequence of undersea volcanoes, ocean trenches, seamounts and hydrothermal vents that shaped some forty to 50 million years in the past.

Zealandia uncovered

There’s a buzz of pleasure on the ship. After greater than a month at sea we’re mid-approach by means of our expedition and have drilled into the seabed at 4 websites. You’ll be able to’t beat the old style thrill of exploration and discovery. We’re re-writing the geological historical past of Zealandia on our voyage. Zealandia was first recognised about 50 years in the past and concepts for the way it shaped have been revealed then, however the one earlier expedition that has drilled deep sufficient into the seabed to gather helpful proof was undertaken in 1971.

It appeared again then that Zealandia separated from Australia and Antarctica about eighty million years in the past, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. It then subsided deep beneath the waves and was misplaced. Nevertheless, fossils and volcanic rocks present that northern Zealandia, an space concerning the measurement of India, was radically affected by formation of the Pacific Ring of Hearth.

Our preliminary observations recommend that areas now underneath greater than one thousand metres of water turned land or shallow seas, and different areas that at the moment are underneath 3000 metres of water might have been a lot shallower, and even land. Modifications in geography have been large, and should assist clarify how the distinctive crops and animals of the southwest Pacific have been capable of disperse and evolve.

Undersea exploration

Explorers are regular individuals doing extraordinary issues. Exploration isn’t straightforward. Not all the things goes to plan. The hours are lengthy, you share a small room with somebody you didn’t know earlier than the voyage, and also you miss your loved ones and buddies. Sea illness shouldn’t be your good friend when you spend 14 hours a day wanting down a microscope at fossils which are so small you may match tons of on the top of a pin. So why can we do it?

It’s onerous to explain the thrill of discovery. Each time we get a brand new core on deck it’s like unwrapping a gift. What is going to it’s? A curiosity to maintain you busy for an additional few days, or key proof to reconstruct the historical past of a hidden continent? Our objectives are to know why Earth’s floor strikes (the research of plate tectonics) and the way greenhouse local weather techniques work (local weather change). The southwest Pacific location makes Zealandia ultimate for testing concepts on how the earth works.

The formation of the Pacific Ring of Hearth modified the best way our planet moved: new volcanoes and mountains grew, pure assets shaped, and the modifications had lengthy-time period results on international local weather. Zealandia was nearer to the South Pole 50 million years in the past, however had a heat local weather. How was this attainable? If pc fashions can’t predict such heat circumstances prior to now, might fashions of future international warming even be underestimates?

The solutions to those and lots of extra questions lie beneath the waves, recorded in sediment layers which have accrued over tens of millions of years.


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