Sci­en­tists set sail to un­lock se­crets of ‘lost con­ti­nent’

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

Sci­en­tists are at­tempt­ing to un­lock the se­crets of the “lost con­ti­nent” of Zealan­dia, set­ting sail Fri­day to in­ves­ti­gate the huge un­der­wa­ter land­mass east of Aus­tralia that has never been prop­erly stud­ied. Zealan­dia, which is mostly sub­merged be­neath the South Pa­cific, was once part of the Gond­wana su­per-con­ti­nent but broke away some 75 mil­lion years ago. In a pa­per pub­lished in the Ge­o­log­i­cal So­ci­ety of Amer­ica’s Jour­nal GSA To­day in Fe­bru­ary, re­searchers made the case that it should be con­sid­ered a new con­ti­nent.

They said it was a dis­tinct ge­o­log­i­cal en­tity that met all the cri­te­ria ap­plied to Earth’s other con­ti­nents, in­clud­ing el­e­va­tion above the sur­round­ing area, dis­tinc­tive ge­ol­ogy, a well-de­fined area and a crust much thicker than that found on the ocean floor. Cov­er­ing five mil­lion square kilo­me­ters, it ex­tends from south of New Zealand north­ward to New Cale­do­nia and west to the Kenn Plateau off Aus­tralia’s east. Drill ship Joides Res­o­lu­tion will re­cover sed­i­ments and rocks ly­ing deep be­neath the sea bed in a bid to dis­cover how the re­gion has be­haved over the past tens of mil­lions of years.

The re­cov­ered cores will be stud­ied on­board, al­low­ing sci­en­tists to ad­dress is­sues such as oceano­graphic his­tory, ex­treme cli­mates, sub-seafloor life, plate tec­ton­ics and earth­quake-gen­er­at­ing zones. Co-chief sci­en­tist Jerry Dick­ens, from Rice Univer­sity in Texas, said the re­gion was a vi­tal area to study changes in global cli­mate. “As Aus­tralia moved north and the Tas­man Sea de­vel­oped, global cir­cu­la­tion pat­terns changed and wa­ter depths over Zealan­dia fluc­tu­ated,” he said. “This re­gion was im­por­tant in in­flu­enc­ing global changes.”

Aus­tralian Na­tional Univer­sity’s Neville Exon said the two-month ex­pe­di­tion, set­ting out Fri­day from Townsville, would also help bet­ter un­der­stand ma­jor changes in the global tec­tonic con­fig­u­ra­tion that started about 53 mil­lion years ago. This is around the time that the Pa­cific “Ring of Fire”, a hotspot for vol­ca­noes and earth­quakes, came into ex­is­tence.

In the Fe­bru­ary sci­en­tific pa­per, lead au­thor Nick Mor­timer said ex­perts had been gath­er­ing data to make the case for Zealan­dia be­ing a con­ti­nent for more than 20 years. But their ef­forts had been frus­trated be­cause most of it was hid­den be­neath the waves. “If we could pull the plug on the oceans, it would be clear to ev­ery­body that we have moun­tain chains and a big, high-stand­ing con­ti­nent,” he said at the time.—AFP

AT SEA: This un­dated hand­out aerial photo re­ceived from Aus­tralian Na­tional Univer­sity in Can­berra shows the drill ship Jodies Res­o­lu­tion at sea.—AFP

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.