Scientists Have Discovered a “Lost Island” in the Indian Ocean below Mauritius

A team of geologists from the South Africa’s University of Witwatersrand has revealed that they have discovered a long “lost continent” in the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. This “hidden continent” was once the part of the super-continent Gondwana, 200 million years ago, which fell apart to form Africa, India, Antarctica, South America and Australia about 180 million years ago.

The continent came into being when lava spewed 9 million years ago, breaking off from the island of Madagascar, as stated by the team in National Communication Journal, which the geologists have recently come across hiding beneath the Mauritius island.

Indian Ocean topography elaborating the East African island nation of Mauritius, the location of the ‘lost continent.’ (Lewis Ashwal/Journal of Petrology/Oxford University Press)

Professor Lewis Ashwal, the lead author of the paper: “Archaean zircons in Miocene oceanic hotspot rocks establish ancient continental crust beneath Mauritius” said about the splitting of the super-continent as follows:

“This breakup did not involve a simple splitting of the ancient super-continent of Gondwana, but a complex splintering took place with fragments of continental crust of variable sizes left adrift within the evolving Indian Ocean basin.”

The team discovered this continent when they found a mineral, Zircons, which is an extremely hard and tough substance. It also contained traces of thorium, uranium, and lead, giving rich information about other minerals found on this continent.

In a study about zircons made by Ashwal and his colleagues Michael Wiedenbeck from the German Research Centre for Geosciences and Trond Torsvik from the University of Oslo, the pair found out that zircons are far older than the minerals that are found in Mauritius.

The top figure shows the current location of Mauritius wrt to Madagascar and India, along with the presumed location of the continental fragments below the ocean’s surface.
The bottom left picture depict the positions of these countries 83 million years ago
The bottom right 73.6 million years ago. Pic Credits: popsci

“Earth is made up of two parts – continents, which are old, and oceans, which are ‘young’. On the continents you find rocks that are over four billion years old, but you find nothing like that in the oceans, as this is where new rocks are formed” Ashwal said.

Professor Lewis Ashwal talked about the history of zircons saying:

“Mauritius is an island, and there is no rock older than 9 million years old on the island. However, by studying the rocks on the island, we have found zircons that are as old as 3 billion years.”

According to Professor Ashwal:

“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”

Beneath Mauritius’ volcanic surface may lie a whole lost continent
Pic Credits: popsci

It should be noted that this discovery isn’t entirely new because traces of this mineral were also found back in 2013 in the beach sand. But back then the discovery was not accepted by the academic community due to lack of significant evidence. Professor Ashwal shared his opinion in this regard as follows:

“The fact that we found the ancient zircons in rock (6-million-year-old trachyte), corroborates the previous study and refutes any suggestion of wind-blown, wave-transported or pumice-rafted zircons for explaining the earlier results”

This discovery has led the geologists to believe that there must be more pieces of the undiscovered continent in the Indian Ocean which they now have named as “Mauritia”.

Regardless of the square miles of land lurking three to six miles beneath the island, Ashwal thinks that Mauritia is strewn on the floor the Indian Ocean, and much of it has been cast into other shoals, ridges, and banks.

“It’s not every day that a new piece of continent is discovered, even though this one is buried and we cannot see or touch it,” says Ashwal.

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