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Scientists journey to the world's hidden 8th continent

Jul 30, 2017 08:04 IST

A group of scientists set sail on 28 July 2017 in a new expedition aimed at unlocking the secrets of the lost continent ‘Zealandia’.

The lost continent, which is mostly submerged, is said to have sunk after breaking away from Australia 60–85 million years ago.

 Scientists journey to the world's hidden 8th continent

In a paper published in the Geological Society of America's Journal GSA Today in February 2016, scientists argued that the Earth has a hidden eighth continent, which should be reflected on the maps.

The researchers said that the submerged continent 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.

Key Highlights

• The scientific expedition, called Expedition 371, is being funded by the National Science Foundation and the International Ocean Discovery Program.

• The team includes more than 30 scientists aboard the JOIDES Resolution, a massive scientific drilling ship. The total duration of the trip is expected to be around two months.

• The group hopes to gain some answers by drilling deep into the continent’s crust or upper layer.

• Drill ship Joides Resolution aims to 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 then be studied onboard, allowing scientists to address various issues including oceanographic history, extreme climates, sub-seafloor life, plate tectonics and earthquake-generating zones.

• The new expedition could also reveal how that Earth-altering event changed ocean currents and the climate.

• The team will be visiting six sites in the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand to drill cores of sediment and rocks from the Earth's crust.

•  Each core will be between 1,000 feet and 2,600 feet (300 meters and 800 meters), meaning that scientists can peer back in time over tens of millions of years.

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Speaking on the development, expedition co-chief scientist Gerald Dickens, said in a statement that they are looking at the best place in the world to understand how plate subduction initiates. He added that the expedition will answer a lot of questions about Zealandia.

Dickers further stated that “If you go way back, about 100 million years ago, Antarctica, Australia and Zealandia were all one continent. Around 85 million years ago, Zealandia split off on its own, and for a time, the sea floor between it and Australia was spreading on either side of an ocean ridge that separated the two.”

"What we want to understand is why and when the various stages from extension to relaxation occurred," Dickens said.

The lost continent, which is about half the size of Australia, covers 5 million sq km, extending northward from south of New Zealand to New Caledonia and westward to the Kenn Plateau off Australia's east.

The new findings could reveal how ocean currents and climate changed at the time.

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