Voyage to study Earth’s mostly submerged hidden continent begins

This week, geologists will reach, and drill into, Zealandia – dubbed the world’s hidden continent by geologists earlier this year.

Zealandia is a 4.9-million-square-kilometre region of continental crust to the east of Australia, 90 per cent of which is submerged. Just New Zealand and New Caledonia poke above the water line.

“This is the first dedicated drilling expedition to understand the history of this mostly submerged region,” says Gerald Dickens of Rice University in Houston, Texas, co-chief scientist on research ship JOIDES Resolution.

The ship left the Australian port of Townsville on 30 July. It will spend two months at sea and drill at six sites before sailing to Hobart, Tasmania, in September. “We’re about halfway to the first drill site, called Lord Howe Rise, and should reach it on Thursday afternoon, Australian time,” said Dickens.

Zealandia became a separate continent 85 million years ago – its crust becoming pulled thin in the process, which later led it to sink below the waves.

Then, 50 million years ago, the Pacific plate dived beneath Zealandia, pushing what is now New Zealand above the water, and creating an arc of volcanoes. “We’re looking at the best place in the world to understand how plate subduction initiates,” says Dickens.

sourced – Andy Coghlan — New Scientist

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