Zealandia: Interesting Facts About the 'Lost Continent'
|Topographic map of Zealandia|
Zealandia also known as the New Zealand continent is a nearly submerged mass of continental crust that sank after breaking away from Australia 60–85 million years ago, having separated from Antarctica between 85 and 130 million years ago.
The name and concept for Zealandia was proposed by Bruce Luyendyk in 1995. In 2017, a team of eleven geologists from New Zealand, New Caledonia and Australia concluded that Zealandia fulfills all the requirements to be considered a drowned continent, rather than a microcontinent or continental fragment.
Zealandia is largely made up of two nearly parallel ridges, separated by a failed rift, where the rift breakup of the continent stops and becomes a filled graben. The ridges rise above the sea floor to heights of 1,000–1,500 m (3,300–4,900 ft), with few rocky islands rising above sea level.
The ridges are continental rock, but are lower in elevation than normal continents because their crust is thinner than usual, approximately 20 km (12 mi) thick, and consequently they do not float as high above the Earth's mantle.
About 25 million years ago, the southern part of Zealandia (on the Pacific Plate) began to shift relative to the northern part (on the Indo-Australian Plate). The resulting displacement by approximately 500 km (310 mi) along the Alpine Fault is evident in geological maps.
Volcanism on Zealandia has also taken place repeatedly in various parts of the continental fragment before, during and after it rifted away from the supercontinent Gondwana. This volcanism is widespread across Zealandia but generally of low volume apart from the huge mid to late Miocene shield volcanoes that developed the Banks and Otago Peninsulas.