New maps offer detailed insight into Zealandia’s ‘lost’ continent

The mysterious eighth continent of Earth does not appear on most conventional maps. That is because almost 95 percent of its land mass is submerged thousands of feet below the Pacific Ocean.

Zealandia, or Te Riu-a-Māui, as it is known in the indigenous Maori language, is a continent 2 million square miles (5 million square kilometers) east of Australia, below modern New Zealand. Scientists discovered the vast underwater mass in the 1990s, and then gave it formal continent status in 2017. However, the “lost continent” remains largely unknown and poorly studied due to its Atlantean geography.

a close-up of a map: a bathymetric map of the lost continent of Zealandia (GNS Science)

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A bathymetric map of the lost continent of Zealandia (GNS Science)

Now, GNS Science, a New Zealand government-owned geohazard research and consulting organization, hopes to elevate Zealandia (at least in public consciousness) with a set of new maps and interactive tools that capture the lost continent in unprecedented detail.


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“We have made these maps to provide an accurate, complete and up-to-date picture of the geology of New Zealand and the Southwest Pacific area, better than we have ever had before,” Nick Mortimer, geologist and lead author of the maps, said in a statement. . “Their value is that they provide a new context for explaining and understanding the configuration of New Zealand’s volcanoes, plate boundaries, and sedimentary basins.”

The new maps reveal Zeeland’s bathymetry (the shape of the ocean floor) as well as its tectonic history, showing how volcanism and tectonic movement have shaped the continent for millions of years. The data for the bathymetric map was provided by the Seabed2030 project, a global effort to map the entire ocean floor by 2030. (The project is 20 percent complete).

The team also released interactive versions of both maps on a New Zealand website. Take a few minutes to click on the hyper-detailed images, and when someone asks what you are doing, simply tell them that you are “discovering the lost continent of Earth.”

Originally published in Living science.

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