FIVE THINGS ABOUT ZEALAN­DIA

National Post (National Edition) - - NEWS -

1 LOST CON­TI­NENT

It’s about half the size of the United States, and it’s been hid­ing un­der every­one’s noses — or more pre­cisely, un­der the waves — for mil­lions of years. Now, sci­en­tists are set­ting sail to fi­nally help solve the mys­tery of Zealan­dia, the lost un­der­sea land mass be­ing billed as the world’s eighth con­ti­nent.

2 BREAK AWAY

Zealan­dia, an ex­panse of 4.9 mil­lion square kilo­me­tres, ex­tends from far south and east of New Zealand up to New Cale­do­nia and west to an area off Aus­tralia’s north­east coast. It was part of Aus­tralia un­til about 75 mil­lion years ago when it started to break away and move north­east. That move­ment stopped 53 mil­lion years ago, and sci­en­tists have slowly dis­cov­ered the land mass, al­most en­tirely sub­merged, over the past two decades.

3 VOY­AGE OF DIS­COV­ERY

“It’s a long way from any­where,” said Ru­pert Suther­land, a Vic­to­ria Uni­ver­sity of Welling­ton pro­fes­sor who will be on a months-long voy­age from Aus­tralia to Zealan­dia to in­ves­ti­gate the land mass, which be­gan Fri­day. “A few mis­sions have been go­ing there to look for some spe­cific things, but there hasn’t re­ally been a co­or­di­nated plan of at­tack.” He con­tin­ued: “It is quite ex­cit­ing, this Zealan­dia ex­plo­ration. We’ve got an en­tire con­ti­nent that has not been ex­plored.”

4 EX­CITE­MENT

Sci­en­tists who are part of the drilling ex­pe­di­tion said sed­i­ment would be col­lected to help an­swer lin­ger­ing ques­tions about Zealan­dia — such as how and when it formed and what has hap­pened in the area over time. They also hope to bet­ter un­der­stand how the Pa­cific Ring of Fire, a hot spot for vol­ca­noes and earth­quakes, formed. “What we hadn’t re­al­ized un­til fairly re­cently was that the for­ma­tion of the Pa­cific Ring of Fire greatly mod­i­fied the con­ti­nent of Zealan­dia,” Suther­land said. “It greatly changed the wa­ter depth, and it cre­ated to­pog­ra­phy.”

5 CON­TI­NENT CALL

Ear­lier this year, in a study pub­lished by the Ge­o­log­i­cal So­ci­ety of Amer­ica, sci­en­tists ar­gued that Zealan­dia should be as­signed con­ti­nent sta­tus, de­spite the fact that it’s mostly un­der­wa­ter, be­cause of its dis­tinc­tive ge­ol­ogy.

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