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Ancient continent beneath New Zealand mapped out


Scientists from GNS Science have released interactive maps of Zealandia, an ancient continent beneath the oceans surrounding New Zealand.

Zealandia has previously been recognised as the planet’s youngest and most submerged continent after gradually emerging some 150 million to 50 million years ago when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

It gradually appeared after the prehistoric supercontinent Gondwanaland broke apart andformed South America, Africa, Antarctica, India and Australia.

Two maps and a website have been released by GNS Science, providing an in-depth look into Earth’s eighth continent. The maps display the ocean floor’s shape (bathymetry) along with Zealandia’s tectonic origins.

The bathymetric web map highlights the shape of solid land and seabed, which is distinguished by assorted colours, while the tectonic map shows interpretations of information, including crust age, major faults, plate and microplate boundaries, plate motion vectors and locations of ancient and modern volcanoes.

The website, titled “E Tūhura – Explore Zealandia” (TEZ), also has other maps, graphics and information about the five million square continent.

“These maps are a scientific benchmark – but they’re also more than that,” lead author of the maps and geologist Dr Nick Mortimer said. “They’re a way of communicating our work to our colleagues, stakeholders, educators and the public.

“We’ve made these maps to provide a correct, complete and up-to-date picture of the geology of the New Zealand and southwest Pacific area – better than we have had before.

“Their value is that they provide a fresh context in which to explain and understand the setting of New Zealand’s volcanoes, plate boundary and sedimentary basins.”

Today, 94 per cent of Zealandia is underwater, with New Zealand and New Caledonia the only land being still above water.

GNS Science program leader Vaughan Stagpoole said TEZ can supply new ways for users to view geoscience data.

“Users can zoom and pan around different thematic geoscience web maps of the region. They can readily view and interrogate the maps and turn layers on or off,” he said. “They can also query features in the layers and generate custom maps of their own.”

GNS Science will continue to update the maps and the website as more research about Zealandia is uncovered.

Zealandia (grey) compared to modern day New Zealand. Image courtesy of GNS Science.

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