After hundreds of years of speculation, scientists say they've finally mapped out Earth's "lost" eighth continent, Zealandia.
In a new study published in the journal Tectonics, researchers announced that they've finished mapping out most of the two million square miles of Zealandia, Earth's mostly-submerged eighth continent that mainly breaks the surface as the island of New Zealand.
The researchers, led by New Zealand's GNS Science research institute, dredged up geological samples from the submerged land mass and found a veritable treasure trove of minerals, including multiple types of sandstone, basaltic lava, and limestone. They then dated the samples, interpreted their magnetic anomalies, and plotted where they were found to map the mostly-underwater continent's geography.
The prevailing theory about how Zealandia came to be submerged, which the GNS Science team affirms, posits that as the former supercontinent of Gondwana stretched out, its tectonic plates began to crack and allow ocean water in. After Antarctica later broke off, the crust of Zealandia continued to thin out until it became submerged — and lost to the depths.
As the BBC recounted in 2021, Dutch explorer Abel Tasman, whose surname was the root of both Zealandia's old name, Tasmantis — as well as the Australian island state of Tasmania — is heralded as the "discoverer" of the island now known as New Zealand when he and his men made landfall there in 1642.
He didn't stay for long, however — the Maori people, who are believed to have settled on the island a few centuries prior, rammed one of the Dutch boats with a canoe, leading to the death of four Europeans. The rest, including Tasman, hightailed it back to the Netherlands. During their brief encounter, however, the Dutch explorer did become convinced that there was an eighth continent that the rest of the world didn't know about. Ultimately, he was right.
As the team behind this latest Zealandia triumph noted in their 2017 paper reintroducing the world to the lost continent, Zealandia is distinct from the continent of Australia in spite of their relative proximity.
Indeed, as the researchers wrote in their paper, New Zealand and its neighboring island cluster, New Caledonia, "have never been regarded as part of the Australian continent, although the geographic term Australasia often is used for the collective land and islands of the southwest Pacific region."
While nobody's likely to live on the rest of the planet's eighth continent anytime soon, it's still an incredible discovery. Here's hoping Atlantis is next.
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