The Search for Zealandia

Turns out Australia and New Zealand are more than just neighbours.

It seems Australia and New Zealand are a lot closer than previously thought, as an expedition led by the Australian National University searches for the mysterious underwater continent: Zealandia. Using the drill ship JOIDES Resolution, which leaves Townsville on Friday the team will attempt to better understand the tectonic configuration.

The two-month research voyage will comprise of 55 scientists. Neville Exon a professor from ANU Research School of Earth Sciences explains the purpose of the mission is to find out the major changes that began 53 million years.

Zealandia, including today's Lord Howe Rise, was largely part of Australia until 75 million years ago, when it started to break away and move to the north-east. That movement halted 53 million years ago.

Zealandia is quite large, and spands 5 million square kilometres, with 94 percent of the continent under the water. It extends northward to New Caledonia, to the Western Kenn Plateau off Rockhampton.

Some believe the continent was discovered far earlier in 1919 and named Tasmantis.

Bruce Luyendyk, US geophysicist named the continent in 1995 but was not considered a continent until February last year when satellite and gravity maps revealed a large, unified area hidden beneath the sea.

The drill ship, according to New Zealand co-chief Professor Rupert Sutherland of Victoria University Wellington will collect five kilometres of sediment to better understand the origin and behaviour of the area, some 53 million years ago.

"The continental crust of Zealandia was thinned by stretching before it separated from Australia so that it lies lower than Australia, Zealandia's continental crust is thicker than the surrounding oceanic crust, and so it lies higher than that."

Professor Jerry Dicken from Rice University believes the area is vital to understanding the changes in global oceanography. 

As Australia moved north and the Tasman Sea developed, global circulation patterns changed and water depths over Zealandia fluctuated. This region was important in influencing global changes.

Header: Wikimedia Commons

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