February 25, 2013 – AFRICA – Scientists believe they’ve discovered the remains of a lost continent on the floor of the Indian Ocean, off Africa. The research team from Norway, South Africa, Germany and the UK identified the ancient “microcontinent” after analysing beach sands from the island of Mauritius. They believe Mauritius was split from the larger island of Madagascar, 900 kilometres to the west, by volcanic eruptions between 61 and 84 million years ago. The beach sands were deposited by subsequent eruptions within the last nine million years. But the analysis found a smattering of zircon grains up to 2 billion years old, suggesting the recent volcanoes had spewed out fragments of an ancient continental crust. They believe the microcontinent, which they have christened “Mauritia”, may also lie beneath Réunion Island and the Seychelles.The discovery helps explain the origin of the Seychelles, which have “long been considered a geological peculiarity”, the team reports in the journal Nature Geoscience. “The Indian Ocean could be littered with continental fragments, but the extent of continental crust remains speculative because these fragments have been obscured by hotspot-related volcanism.” While the study involved modern techniques – including plate tectonic reconstructions and analysis of gravity and marine geophysical data – it reflects an ancient fascination with lost continents. The story of Atlantis, which supposedly lay in the Atlantic Ocean west of Spain and Morocco, has its origins in two dialogues by the philosopher Plato in 355 BC. Rumours of new lands abounded from the 15th century, as Portuguese, Spanish and Italian navigators pushed the boundaries of the known world. “Hi-Brazil,” which reportedly lay west of Ireland and was inhabited by large black rabbits, survived on maps for centuries. The scientists in the latest study promise a more rigorous approach. “Critical to furthering our tale of lost continents are deep drilling, acquisition of high-quality seismic refraction data … coupled with geochemistry, geochronology and plate reconstructions,” they report.
By Rebecca Morelle Science reporter, BBC World Service
Fragments of an ancient continent are buried beneath the floor of the Indian Ocean, a study suggests.
Researchers have found evidence for a landmass that would have existed between 2,000 and 85 million years ago.
The strip of land, which scientists have called Mauritia, eventually fragmented and vanished beneath the waves as the modern world started to take shape.
The study is published in the journal Nature Geoscience.
Until about 750 million years ago, the Earth’s landmass was gathered into a vast single continent called Rodinia.
And although they are now separated by thousands of kilometres of ocean, India was once located next to Madagascar.
Now researchers believe they have found evidence of a sliver of continent – known as a microcontinent – that was once tucked between the two.
The team came to this conclusion after studying grains of sand from the beaches of Mauritius.
While the grains dated back to a volcanic eruption that happened about nine million years ago, they contained minerals that were much older.
Professor Trond Torsvik, from the University of Oslo, Norway, said: “We found zircons that we extracted from the beach sands, and these are something you typically find in a continental crust. They are very old in age.”
The zircon dated to between 1,970 and 600 million years ago, and the team concluded that they were remnants of ancient land that had been dragged up to the surface of the island during a volcanic eruption.
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