Zealandia has been around for 60 million years, and around that time it separated from the supercontinent Gondwana. It is also almost completely submerged and was not officially recognized as a continent until 2017. However, it is now – at least from a research point of view – reviving: it has become the first continent to be completely mapped, and some new secrets have been discovered.
Creating a complete map of the continent was difficult even before Zealandia officially existed; All of Earth's continents contain underwater shelves that are difficult to explore, which means that a Geological maps of the planet's surface are somewhat incomplete. Since 95% of Zealandia is underwater, this area is extremely difficult.
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Fortunately, this did not deter researchers. Based on a study published in 2019, an international team of scientists succeeded in completing the 5 million square kilometer project Mapping the continent.
“We believe Zealandia is the first land mass to have its bedrock, sedimentary basins and volcanic rocks at the edge of a continental ocean completely mapped.”
In their study, the team wrote a description of the mapping and results.
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Previous research has determined that Zealandia's crust is thinner than that of most other continents, but it has not been clear what causes the thinning process. The new study, using magnetic surveys, revealed a possible cause for the eruption, as basalt lava rocks indicated the presence of a huge volcanic area here.
This area is thought to have erupted between 100 and 60 million years ago, around the time Zealandia separated from Gondwana. “During this period of at least 40 million years, molten magma flowed from fissures and fissures as the continent stretched and thinned like pizza dough,” lead author Nick Mortimer explained in a statement.
Co-author Wanda Stratford added:
“Until now, the role of magma in the breakup of Gondwana has been underestimated. Now we see that these 250,000 km2 “It covers an area of the continent – roughly the size of New Zealand itself.”
Through dating and chemical analysis, the full map also reveals a complete picture of another key part of Zealandia's history – the 4,000-kilometre-long granite ridge. The age of the transcontinental granite belt called the Mediterranean Batholith is believed to be between 250 and 100 million years.
As for what's next for Zealandia, Mortimer has some ideas:
“Although the continent is the first to be fully mapped to its undersea edges, there is much more to explore and discover. Not only what is where, but also when, how and why the major geological events that shaped our continent occurred.”