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Thursday, May 27, 1999 Published at 07:59 GMT 08:59 UK


'Lost continent' discovered

Drilling beneath the ocean: The Joides Resolution

By BBC News Online Science Editor Dr David Whitehouse

David Whitehouse fills in the background to the discovery
Scientists have discovered the remains of a "lost continent" beneath the waves of the Indian Ocean.

Drilling by the Joides Resolution research vessel, which traverses the seas extracting samples from beneath the sea floor, suggests that the continent, about a third the size of present day Australia, sank from sight only 20 million years ago.

[ image: A recovered sample of the 'lost continent']
A recovered sample of the 'lost continent'
It lies beneath the southern Indian Ocean. Called the Kerguelen Plateau, it is one of the most remote places on Earth.

The Joides Resolution, the world's largest research vessel, bored a series of holes through the undersea plateau, which is about two kilometres below the ocean surface.

Spores and pollen

It brought to the surface many types of rocks associated with explosive volcanism, as well as sedimentary rocks similar to those found in India and Australia.

[ image: Sending the drill bit down to the sea floor]
Sending the drill bit down to the sea floor
"We found abundant evidence that much of the Kerguelen Plateau formed above sea level," said Dr Mike Coffin of the University of Texas.

"Wood fragments, a seed, spores and pollen recovered in 90 million year-old sediment from the central Kerguelen Plateau indicates that it was above sea level."

Scientists believe that it rose out of the ocean about 110 million years ago, following a series of huge volcanic eruptions.

Small dinosaurs

Fifty million years ago, it may have been covered in lush ferns, moist with tropical humidity.

[ image: The 'core store' on the Joides Resolution]
The 'core store' on the Joides Resolution
Small dinosaurs would have hidden in the undergrowth stalking their prey.

Twenty million years ago, it started to sink beneath the waves of what is now the Indian Ocean.

Scientists hope that studying the region will help them understand the break-up of Australia, India and Antarctica.

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