Just when we started to feel like we had the world all figured out, scientists now believe there may be an 8th continent lurking out there. How could previous generations of researchers possibly have missed it, especially considering that its roughly the size of India?
Things are a bit easier to understand when you realize that most of its hiding underwater.
Earth’s Lost Continent
As it turns out, the idea of the 8th continent has actually been around for a few decades. It wasn’t until last year, however, that papers published by GSA Today really set out to make a case for it.
Dubbed “Zealandia,” just 6% of the continent exists above sea level, most in the form of the islands of New Zealand and New Caledonia.
Some scientists estimate that the now-sunken continent struck out on its own somewhere between 60- 85 million years ago. Before that, its closest continental cohorts seem to have been Austrailia and Antarctica.
Scientist Nick Mortimer explained to Live Science that part of what caused Zealandia to ultimately take a dive was land stretching that took place upon its separation.
As it set out to claim its independence, its continental crust became more thinned out than the thicker crusts of continents which float.
Zealandia’s Long Lost Past
Researchers believe that 100 million years ago, Austrailia, Antarctica, and Zealandia all once made up the same mega-continent before they went their separate ways.
Scientists believe that even after Zealandia had made its break and sank, some of its landscape may have undergone some changes. They believe this may have been instituted by the Pacific Ocean’s “Ring of Fire,” which is notorious for its high levels of volcanic activity and earthquakes.
Such conditions quite possibly caused the continent to buckle somewhere between 40- 50 million years ago. Regardless, Zealandia is still elevated enough from the ocean floor and separate enough from Austrailia to make a solid argument for its existence as a continent in its own right.
Recent Research Reveals New Clues To Zealandia’s History
Perhaps unsurprisingly, until recently very little was known about the 96% of Zealandia which exists underwater. Back in 2017, an international research team set out on a mission to see what they could dig up concerning the continent and its history.
By drilling beneath thousands of feet of water, they ended up with over 8,000 ft. of rock and sediment that yielded several clues.
Among them were pollen from land-dwelling plants which suggested that now -sunken parts of the continent once existed far enough above sea level to support life. They also came up with shell fossils which have led them to believe that before it was as thoroughly submerged as it is today, parts of Zealandia were once covered by far more shallow seas.
Not only has such research given scientists clues about the history of Earth’s long-lost continent, but it may also give them information about ancient migration patterns. By being able to reconstruct shallow waters and once solid masses of land, the new information could help scientists in understanding how various plants and animal life dispersed into various regions.