The Startling Discovery of Zealandia: The Alleged 8th Continent
Before the discovery of ‘continental drift’ (in early 20th century) the idea of hypothetical submerged continents fired up old geologists’ imagination. From Atlantis to Lemuria (aka Kumari Kandam), different scientific hypothesis conjured mythical continents all over the world. Most were based on incoherent views of early explorers and half-baked scientific researches. Or may be due to simple human errors in perception. The similar kind of fauna present in Indian and African coasts of the African sea led to the belief of submerged ridges, peaks and even rich kingdoms under the Indian Ocean. Despite robust theories like ‘plate tectonics’, there are still faux scientific researches trying to unearth an alleged vanished civilization. However, the new geophysical data from Southwest Pacific Ocean proves that the possibility of a submerged continental crust isn’t such a silly thing. The geologists (from Australia, New Zealand, and New Caledonia), who had gathered data for nearly two decades are now pushing to add eighth (lost) continent called ‘Zealandia’ to the approved list of continents.
A paper published in the journal ‘Geological Society of America’ claims that a vast expanse of continent exists under the sea in single piece. It suggests that the region is at lease 1 million square kilometers in area and defined by perfect geological limits. The submerged land is said to cover 5 million square kms which includes New Zealand. The islands of New Zealand are said to represent 6 percent of the alleged ‘Zealandia’ continent. The rest 94 percent are claimed to be hidden under the sea. Dr. Mortimer, the lead author and geologist in this research, asserts that he and his team of 8 researchers came to this conclusion after 20 years of gradual research (by extensive study of the rocks beneath the ocean among other methods); not through sudden discoveries or half-baked theories.
Mr. Mortimer has mentioned that ‘Zealandia’s is a younger continent, born from the breakup of ancient super continent (broke up 85 million years ago). This rift made ‘Zealandia’ the continental crust to be thinned out, causing the large portion of the area to sink. The term ‘Zealandia’ was first coined by Professor Bruce Luyendyk of University of California (in 1995). Its land mass is proposed to be nearly the same size as Indian sub-continent. Satellite Maps, based on the Earth’s gravitational field, have clearly shown that Zealandia is coherent continental structure; not a mixture of various continental crust pieces. But still due to lack of perfect definitions for continent and due to various other factors, it would be hard battle for Mortimer and his team to make Zealandia be recognized as a continent.
Zealandia confirms general principles of continent (for eg well-defined limits, sedimentary rocks, thicker crusts than oceanic crust, etc). Geologists could closely learn about reshaping process of a continental crust. Or at least this particular research would push scientists to rethink on the definition of continental land masses. Like NASA’s recent discovery of potential life-bearing ‘Exoplanets’, the scientific value of such discoveries is more than about getting plastered its name on some list. Nevertheless, Zealandia would soon become a part of popular culture (and there are no official international bodies, as of now to designate new continents). From a geological perspective, Mortimer’s two decade research makes sense, yet there would be other conflicts in recognizing continental boundaries: the political and economical factors (which never work on common sense like science).