A small, sunken continent was recently discovered beneath the Indian Ocean. The ancient mini-continent, called Mauritia, lies beneath the lava flows that created the islands of Reunion and Mauritius.
The lost continent dates back to when the early Earth’s super-continents, Laurasia and Gondwana, were shattering into the more familiar geography that we know today. Mauritia was once part of the chunk of Gondwana that gradually split into Madagascar, India, Australia and Antarctica after approximately 170 million years ago.
The micro-continent later broke away from Madagascar between 83.5 and 61 million years ago. The mini-continent was shredded as it passed over mid-ocean ridges. Lava eruptions then covered the sunken continent.
Volcanic eruptions on the island of Mauritius brought fragments of the lost continent to the surface. The fragments were crystals known as zircons that dated to 660 and 1,970 million years ago, far older than the rock making up the overlying crust and volcanic islands. This suggested that the rock beneath the crust was actually a part of the ancient mini-continent, according to the study documenting the discovery in the journal Nature Geoscience.
The study’s authors, a multinational team of geoscientists from Norway, South Africa, Britain and Germany, suggested that there could be other lost micro-continents buried beneath lava in other parts of the globe.
IMAGE: Map of Ancient Rodinia (Trond Torsvik)