Science Blast! New Continent Fights for Life!

How often do new (okay, newly defined) land masses fight for their very existence! Another perfect setting for pulp stories: re-emerged Zeelandia.

Earth from space

Lurking beneath New Zealand is a long-hidden continent called Zealandia, geologists say. But since nobody is in charge of officially designating a new continent, individual scientists will ultimately have to judge for themselves.

A team of geologists pitches the scientific case for the new continent in the March/April issue of GSA Today, arguing that Zealandia is a continuous expanse of continental crust covering around 4.9 million square kilometers. That’s about the size of the Indian subcontinent. Unlike the other mostly dry continents, around 94 percent of Zealandia hides beneath the ocean. Only New Zealand, New Caledonia and a few small islands peek above the waves.

“If we could pull the plug on the world’s oceans, it would be quite clear that Zealandia stands out about 3,000 meters above the surrounding ocean crust,” says study coauthor Nick Mortimer, a geologist at GNS Science in Dunedin, New Zealand. “If it wasn’t for the ocean level, long ago we’d have recognized Zealandia for what it was — a continent.”

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  • Here we are in an ultra-cool dwarf star system, on planet, say, 4, in the Goldilocks Zone. Against all odds (little inside joke – there are no odds), life has developed in the thin twilight strip of our tidally-locked planet. The presence of several nearby planets perturbs our homeworld’s rotation just enough that the wobble this introduced creates an even thinner strip of dawn and dusk along the twilight zone, allowing liquid water to regularly freeze, thaw, and have little tides, creating the tide pools which, it turns out, are a critical factor in the development of life.

    Well, our intelligent species has just reached the point where they have developed telescopes. At the center of their mythology is the aquamarine planet Alítheia, the brightest disk (the 7 planets of this system are close enough together to be visible disks from each other), the source of all good – little do they know! It is the planet that perturbs their planet’s rotation enough for life to have developed!

    In trepidation, a brave soul points his telescope at Alítheia, and sees clouds and water and icecaps. The people have been awed for the last couple centuries by the slow changes happening in the sky, chiefly the subtle but noticeable changes to Alítheia, which has grown lighter and less intensely green – according to their grandparents.

    Alítheia is entering an ice age. The story ends as our astronomer notes the emergence of something that looks a lot like land – a brownish streak in the southern hemisphere he calls Zealandia, after his father, Zea – and is contemplating if he should announce such a finding. The educated priests and scholars would accept his findings conditionally upon presentation of the evidence; he’s worried about what the ignorant, and especially his enemies, might make of it.

    His revelry is interrupted by a peer of his, excitingly telling him of something called a ‘rocket’.

    • Mrs. Wright

      Keep going! We’re all on the edge of our seats!