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Nature & Environment Ancient Continent Lost Beneath Indian Ocean Discovered

Ancient Continent Lost Beneath Indian Ocean Discovered

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First Posted: Feb 25, 2013 09:10 AM EST
New Continent
The evidence of an ancient continent which may have sunk millions of years ago and was buried beneath the floor of the Indian Ocean has been discovered by researchers. The colored track (left color scale) west of Reunion is the calculated movement of the Reunion hotspot. The black lines with yellow circles and the red circle indicate the corresponding calculated track on the African plate and the Indian plate, respectively. The numbers in the circles are ages in millions of years. (Photo : GFZ/Steinberger)

There may be new proof for Atlantis--sort of. Researchers have found evidence of an ancient continent buried beneath the floor of the Indian Ocean, which may have sunk millions of years ago.

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The microcontinent, which researchers have now dubbed Mauritia, probably existed between 2,000 and 85 million years ago, after the single landmass called Rodinia began to break up and start to form our modern continents. The small continent was located between India and Madagascar, tucked safely between the two.

How did researchers find evidence for the existence of this small continent? They gathered grains of sand from the beaches of Mauritius. While the sand dated back to a volcanic eruption that occurred about nine million years ago, they possessed minerals that were far older, including zircon. In fact, the zircon dated between 1,970 and 600 million years old, which caused the researchers to conclude that they were the remnants of ancient land that had been dragged up to the surface of the island during a volcanic eruption.

Currently, researchers believe that the remains of Mauritia could be located about six miles beneath the island, Mauritius, and under the Indian Ocean. The microcontinent would have spanned millions of years of history, dating from the Precambrian Era where the land was devoid of life to the age of the dinosaurs.

How exactly did this continent sink, though? About 85 million years ago, India started to drift away from Madagascar and toward its current location. This would have caused Mauritia to break up and disappear beneath the waves.

Currently, further research is needed to ascertain whether or not this continent actually exists and what might remain of the landmass. Researchers hope to collect seismic data which can image what might be left of the microcontinent, or perhaps drill deep into the Earth to collect samples.

The findings are published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

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