Pacific News Minute: Expedition Uncovers Secrets of the Lost Continent of Zealandia

Sep 28, 2017

Zealandia topography
Credit Wikimedia Commons

An expedition to Zealandia has returned with fossils that prove the sunken continent was not always under water. Zealandia was recognized as a continent earlier this year, when geologists from New Zealand, Australia and New Caledonia concluded that it meets all the criteria, even though nearly all of it lies deep under the South Pacific Ocean. We have more from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute.

Zealandia broke off from Australia and Antarctica some 80 million years ago, and just three percent of it rides above the waves today. New Zealand and New Caledonia are the biggest bits, along with a few scattered islands. The size is 1.9 million square miles, about two thirds as big as Australia and roughly the same size as the Indian sub-continent.

Geologists have argued for decades whether to call it a continental fragment or a micro-continent. There’s no scientific body that formally decides such matters, but the paper published earlier this year got a lot of publicity and the lost continent now seems an established fact, though some still call it Tasmantis.

The two month expedition drilled core samples as deep as 4,000 feet at six different sites. Along with rock and sediment, they also found 8,000 fossils that prove that Zealandia wasn’t always underwater.

The discovery of plants and animals that lived on land or in shallow seas could go a long way to explain how those species found their way to islands separated today by vast expanses of ocean. Jamie Allen, the project director, said that the drilling will provide insight into Earth’s history, including the movement of tectonic plates, changes in ocean circulation and global climate. The core samples will be sent to Rice University in Texas for further study.

Rice’s Brad Clement, told Radio Australia that the mission “reminds us that there is still a lot of basic exploration to do on our planet.”