Deep beneath the waves, and quietly tucked away for millions of years, is the sunken and lost continent known as Zealandia. Now, scientists have just begun a new expedition to discover its secrets. Zealandia covered an astonishing expanse of 1.9 million miles and was once a part of Australia until it broke away and drifted northeast 75 million years ago.
While Zealandia might have stopped its movement 53 million years ago, up until just two decades ago, scientists were unaware of its existence, probably because it is almost completely submerged beneath the ocean with 94 percent of it under water. The name for the lost continent of Zealandia was coined in 1995 by US geophysicist Bruce Luyendyk.
Victoria University of Wellington professor Rupert Sutherland has said that up until now, there has been no proper study conducted of this sunken continent, but this has changed with the new study, as the New York Times reported.
“It’s a long way from anywhere. A few missions have been going there to look for some specific things, but there hasn’t really been a coordinated plan of attack. It is quite exciting, this Zealandia exploration. We’ve got an entire continent that has not been explored.”
The two-month mission to study the lost continent of Zealandia began on Friday as a group of scientists set sail from Australia to embark upon a large drilling expedition on a ship called the Joides Resolution.
There will be 55 scientists involved in this large scale effort to learn more about Zealandia. The International Ocean Discovery Program aims to drill up to 2,600 feet into the seafloor of the Tasman Sea at six separate locations to collect samples of sediment, which could contain evidence of fossils that have been left there over the course of millions of years, according to the Telegraph.
The goal is to closely inspect tectonic plate shifts, which would have happened roughly around 50 million years ago when New Zealand and Australia stopped disconnecting from each other and actually started to compress instead. Gerald Dickens, a scientist at Rice University in Texas, remarked that this expedition to learn more about Zealandia might very well help to answer many questions about the lost continent.
“We’re really looking at the best place in the world to understand how plate subduction initiates. This expedition will answer a lot of lingering questions about Zealandia.”
— EGU (@EuroGeosciences) July 22, 2017
In the past, there was some debate whether Zealandia should really be called a continent, but in a study published earlier in the year by the Geological Society of America, scientists wrote that Zealandia should be given the status of a continent, even though the land is almost entirely submerged under water.
In the study, scientists described everything that was known so far about the lost continent and described the scientific attributes of what a continent is and is not, and they used that criteria to determine that Zealandia was, in fact, a continent. The findings of this study have been accepted for the most part by members of the scientific community, and the study described the significance of Zealandia being given continent status as an important one.
“The scientific value of classifying Zealandia as a continent is much more than just an extra name on a list.”
The new study of the lost continent of Zealandia, which began on July 27, will continue until September 26.
[Featured Image by NASA/Getty Images]