Scientists recently gathered more clues into the history of Earth’s seventh continent, Zealandia. The mostly submerged continent was hiding in plain sight until a new study backed up its existence this year. Now, after drilling expeditions, researchers think the landmass was once closer to land level, allowing animals and plants to move across continents.
Researchers embarked on a two-month-long expedition to Zealandia in one of the first extensive surveys of the area, according to The Guardian. They recently shared discoveries like fossils and signs of tectonic movements. Stephen Pekar, a researcher aboard the JOIDES Resolution research vessel, said in an August post their drilling allowed them to “say something completely new that basically has improved and in many cases has rewritten our understanding of the tectonic history of Zealandia.”
Researchers collected sediment cores by drilling in six locations in Zealandia, finding information of change over millions of years. Gerald Dickens, professor at Rice University, said, “The discovery of microscopic shells of organisms that lived in warm shallow seas, and spores and pollen from land plants, reveal that the geography and climate of Zealandia was dramatically different in the past.”
Zealandia is around 1.9 million square miles, and researchers think it might have separated from Australia and Antarctica 80 million years ago. The idea that Zealandia could once have been closer to land level might offer an answer to another question scientists have puzzled over: how plants and animals dispersed in the South Pacific. Rupert Sutherland, professor at Victoria University, said, “The discovery of past land and shallow seas now provides an explanation: there were pathways for animals and plants to move along.”
Researchers will keep scrutinizing the sediment cores for information on climate change and Zealandia’s past.
Via The Guardian