Researchers confirm existence of lost continent beneath Indian Ocean

1 Feb 2017

Expanse over the Indian Ocean. Image: nektofadeev/Shutterstock

Beneath the depths of the Indian Ocean, underneath the island nation of Mauritius, lies an entire lost continent.

The first suggestion that a lost continent may exist in the Indian Ocean came as recently as 2013, when researchers found geological evidence that suggested an ancient land mass exists in the area, once a part of the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana.

Nearly four years later, researchers have confirmed its existence for the first time, revealing that there may be more out there than we once thought.

It is believed that the submerged land mass was left following the break-up of Gondwana, which started about 200m years ago, and was subsequently covered by young lava during volcanic eruptions on the island.

This continent then broke off from the island of Madagascar, when Africa, India, Australia and Antarctica split up to form the Indian Ocean of today.

In a paper published to Nature Communications, a team of South African, German and Norwegian researchers came to the conclusion of a lost continent when they discovered a mineral called zircon on the island of Mauritius.

Lost continent

Indian Ocean topography showing the location of Mauritius as part of a chain of progressively older volcanoes, extending from the presently active hot spot of Réunion toward the 65m-year-old Deccan Traps of north-west India. Image: Wits University

Zircon holds the key

The discovery of zircon in any geological find would suggest ancient tectonic movements, but the age of the zircon discovered on Mauritius – estimated to be 3bn years old – is much higher than any other rock found on the island.

“Earth is made up of two parts: continents, which are old, and oceans, which are young,” said Wits University’s Prof Lewis Ashwal, author of the paper.

“On the continents, you find rocks that are over 4bn years old, but you find nothing like that in the oceans, as this is where new rocks are formed.

“The fact that we have found zircons of this age proves that there are much older crustal materials under Mauritius that could only have originated from a continent.”

Not the only lost continent

This new data confirms the existence of the lost continent as, following the 2013 research, critics claimed it was possible that zircon might have been a mineral alien to the area, having been brought in either by wind or even by the tracks of car tyres.

“The fact that we found the ancient zircons in rock corroborates the previous study and refutes any suggestion of wind-blown, wave-transported or pumice-rafted zircons for explaining the earlier results,” Ashwal confirmed.

The team also said that there are many pieces of various sizes of undiscovered continent spread across the Indian Ocean that is collectively called Mauritia, created following the break-up of Gondwana.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic