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The ancient now-underwater continent of Zealandia might have been home to animals and plants recently than first thought, scientists say.

Zealandia, that was confirmed as the world’s seventh continent before this season, remains shrouded in secret because most it submerged in the Pacific Ocean.

On Wednesday, scientists shared their results in Hobart carrying out a two-month sea expedition which surveyed the spot in unprecedented fine detail.

Zealandia considered having gone underwater about 80 million years back when it separated from Australia and New Zealand.

But Teacher Rupert Sutherland from the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand said sediment samples showed elements of the continent rose when volcanic activity created the Pacific Ring of Fire about 50 million years ago.

“Drinking water that was deep when the dinosaurs around became shallow again,” he said.

“We’d possible seaways, islands that plants and animals could have migrated along even, things such as ferns for example”.

“We thought before Zealandia sank, vanished under the ocean in the Cretaceous.”

Sediment samples extracted from almost five kilometers below sea level by the team of JOIDES Resolution, a 1970s-built oil drilling ship converted for research purposes.

Some 30 scientists including a small number of Australians were onboard for the object within the International Ocean Finding Program.

They drilled at six sites within an area how big is India roughly, retrieving 8000 specimens and several-hundred fossil species.

“A fascinating thing about this could it remind us that there is still a great deal of basic exploration to do in our world,” IODP director Brad Clement said.

“This ship provides us the opportunities to put our hands on sediments and rocks”.

“We’re learning new things.”

JOIDES Resolution, which costs $US150,000 ($A190,635) each day to run, is part of the three-pronged team including a Japanese drilling researchers and ship in Europe.

Zealandia sediments samples will be analyzed in us early next year further.

The continent is roughly five million square kilometers and includes New and Caledonia Zealand.

Prof Sutherland said the samples would also give valuable insight into the way the earth’s environment has changed over an incredible number of years.

“Heading back and taking a look at the records is the best way to understand the greenhouse climate systems,” he said.

“Zealandia holds an excellent record of these processes.”

JOIDES Resolution is getting into five expeditions in Australian and New Zealand waters over another year.

It is being re-stocked with food and supplies and can leave Tasmania on Sunday for even more ocean drilling off Australia’s southwest coast.

 

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