One may encounter the lost continent of Atlantis in the pages of comic books or adapted films and TV series. The continent submerged under the sea is certainly an interesting fictional concept but, apparently, we have the real deal in existence in Zealandia.
Zealandia is a lost continent in the Pacific Ocean that was actually first discovered as far back as 1919. Its highest point is the only part that manages to breach the surface and for a long time, we have known it simply as New Zealand.
It turns out though that there is a lot more to New Zealand than we were previously privy to. If one were to sail west from Sydney they would encounter Zealandia, although not as easily as that sentence may suggest. Deep beneath the ocean in that area is a chunk of land spread out over 4.9 million square kilometers (about 3 million square miles) that broke off from Australia about 75 million years ago.
Land masses, especially, those found underwater are not generally considered continents but Zealandia is definitely unique for a number of reasons. The land mass that is Zealandia fits all of the criteria of a continent: elevation above the surrounding area, a distinctive geology, a well-defined area, and a crust much thicker than that found on the ocean floor.
The Australian National University has launched a drill ship to explore Zealandia in what will likely be the most intensive explorations of a “lost continent” ever. They want to collect sediment from the continental crust beneath the ocean, and test existing theories about how and when Zealandia formed.
One of such theories is that it was once a part of Gondwana, the supercontinent that also included Australia, Antarctica, Africa, and South America. It is suspected that it broke off about 75 million years ago, and over the course of about 20 million years gradually spread itself so thin that it sank into the ocean. After getting core samples and mineral deposits, scientists will be able to strengthen these theories or toss them out.
The underwater continent which used to be known as Tasmantis is not the only one of its kind. There is another smaller leftover from Gondwana that was discovered just this year and named “Mauritia” after Mauritia, one of its only parts to actually break the surface. Other’s like Mauritia exists but only Zealandia is big enough to attain the rank of continent.