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Zealandia Eighth Continent : Scientific Report
Zealandia Eighth Continent - New Zealand is no more a part of the Australian continent, as believed hitherto. The recent expeditions reveal that in addition to the existing seven continents on the earth, there is a large mass of land hidden beneath seawaters, huge enough to be considered as continent. The submerged land mass is estimated to be two thirds the size of Australia and comprises the entire New Zealand and a French collectivity, New Caledonia. The two integral parts of New Zealand, both its northern & southern islands, are separated by New Caledonia.
Zealandia Eighth Continent:
Though there is no specific definition for a land mass to be called a continent, the terrain encompassing New Zealand & New Caledonia fulfils the criteria and possesses the following characteristics required to be given the status of a continent by convention:
- Elevation above the sea level
- Distinctive geology
- Well defined area
- Crust much thicker than that found on ocean floor.
Zealandia Eighth Continent - The above Zealandia map shows where the scientists were heading to get samples for evaluation.. Credit: IODP
An American geophysicist & oceanographer Mr. Bruce Peter Luyendyk proposed to the land mass the name and concept of Zealandia. The title Zealandia seems clearly to have been coined in view of the large portion of the land occupied by the entire New Zealand. Though New Caledonia also occupies a significant portion, its area is much smaller compared to that of New Zealand. Due to the predominant geographical occupancy of New Zealand, scientists have shown inclination to christen the newly discovered land mass as Zealandia.
Inspite of the fact that the total land mass of Zealandia is more than half the size of Australia, most of its land mass (about 93%) lies submerged in ocean waters and a mere 7% of it is above the sea level. However, most of the terrestrial land accounts for more than the double the size of New Zealand. New Caledonia, a collection of islands under the governance of France, with its capital as Noumea, finds its place in the northern tip of Zealandia.
Recommended to read: Our Previous Post discussed on the identification of Zealandia : The Eighth Continent.
A team of 32 scientists from 12 countries embarked on a nine week voyage in South Pacific Ocean to study the nature and extent of Zealandia. The first extensive study of the region taken was up by IODP (International Ocean Discovery Programme) at Texas and A&M University aboard the research vessel JOIDES Revolution. Their work revealed that Zealandia might have existed much closer to the land level than previously thought, giving ample opportunity to flora & fauna to spread between continents.
The visible terrestrial part of Zealandia above the sea level has Tasman Sea to its left and Pacific Ocean to the right in the world map. The western ridge is noted to be hundreds of miles off Australia’s sea coast.
Mr. Gerald Dickens, Co-chief Scientist of the expedition of Rice University in Houston, Texas held that the fossils newly discovered proved that Zealandia was not always as deep beneath the waves, as it is seen today. Submergence of most of the land mass has been mainly attributed to natural catastrophic upheavals like earthquakes, volcanic eruptions. More than 8000 specimens were studied and several hundred fossils were identified which formed a reliable basis for believing that terrestrial life existed above the sea level for several centuries before the occurrence of massive inundation.
Zealandia Eighth Continent - the research vessel JOIDES Resolution used by the team of scientists. Credit: IODP
The enormous geographical changes caused by vagaries of nature over a period of millennia are absolutely unpredictable. What was once remained as a colossal gargantuan continent, which we called it Gondwana, was split into large fragments 100 million years ago and further divided into Australia and the newly discovered Zealandia about 85 million years back. It is certainly a matter of excitement for scientists and enthusiastic people that the microshells of thousands of organisms, fossils, several soil samples collected from the randomly selected places covering almost the entire extensive area in the sea bed of Zealandia became the basis for better understanding of evolution and transformation of life forms on earth over extremely lengthy spans of millennia.
Zealandia Eighth Continent - IODP Researchers explored deep under Zealandia's sea floor for obtaining samples of the new continent. Credit: IODP