A gigantic landmass has been discovered hidden deep in the ocean beneath the islands of Mauritius. It has been identified as a piece of the ancient supercontinent known as Gondwana. This piece, running the length from India to Madagascar, was identified by studying the geology it contained; specifically the mineral zircon. This landmass was named Mauritia. Witwatersrand University geologist, Professor Lewis Ashwal, lead author on the paper “Archaean zircons in Miocene oceanic hotspot rocks establish ancient continental crust beneath Mauritius“, published the work recently in the prestigious journal Nature Communications along with contributors Bjørn Jamtveit, a geologist at the University of Oslo in Norway, Michael Wiedenbeck from the German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ) and Trond Torsvik from the University of Oslo, guest scientist at GFZ.
Gondwana is the name given to an ancient supercontinent which is over 500 million years old. Gondwana was formed prior to Pangaea, another supercontinent, and later through shifting tectonic plates became part of Pangaea along with Laurasia. Gondwana included the land masses of Antarctica, South America, Madagascar, Africa, Australia, the Arabian peninsula, and India. Gondwana began to break up in the early Jurassic period. Massive volcanic activity split the supercontinent slowly over a period of 100 million years and the pieces drifted, eventually ending up where they are today. During this breakup, smaller pieces of the supercontinent were lost to the sea. This recent discovery was one of those small pieces which became covered with lava beneath the ocean. Many other pieces are known to exist and lie scattered over a wide area.
The identification process came mainly from studying the mineral zircon, which is found in volcanic eruptions. The levels of zircon found on the island of Mauritius didn’t correlate with the island’s age, prompting the scientists leading the research to investigate further. The scientific analysis can be found here. This is not the first time that zircons that are billions of years old have been found on the island where the oldest rocks are only 9 million years old. A different study from 2013 found traces of the mineral in beach sand. At the time the study received heavy criticism, including that the mineral could have been either blown in by the wind, or carried in accidentally by humans.
It’s likely that this discovery will prompt additional research in the area with a high probability of success.