Tiny ancient continent found in Indian Ocean


Scientists have found traces of a micro-continent hidden underneath the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius, they said in a report published Sunday.

The slab, dubbed Mauritia, was probably formed around 61 million to 83 million years ago after Madagascar split from India, but eventually it broke up and became smothered by thick lava deposits.

In a study published in the journal Nature Geoscience, scientists analyzed beach sand on Mauritius that contained zircons between 660 million and 2 billion years old.

The minute chips of mineral were a remarkable find, as they were recent in geological terms, coming from 9-million-year-old volcanic rock that has been eroded to sand.

“The zircon points to the existence of fragments of an ancient micro-continent beneath the island (Mauritius), pieces of which were brought to the surface by recent volcanic activity,” a statement by Nature Geoscience said.

The Indian Ocean floor may be littered with hidden land fragments that broke off as the one-time supercontinent Pangea split up and formed the continents we know today, the paper suggests.

Pangea began to rift about 200 million years ago, yielding Gondwana in the south and Laurasia in the north.

Gondwana in turn split into Madagascar, Australia, Antarctica and India between 80 million and 130 million years ago.

The new research suggests that Mauritia became detached when Madagascar and India split up.

The Seychelles, the study adds, could be another continental fragment like Mauritia but remain visible.