IODP Expedition 371 brings Zealandia cores to surface

By on 16 August, 2017

Proposed coring locations for IODP Expedition 371 to Zealandia. Cores of the ocean’s sediment and crust will reveal a record of oceanographic and tectonic processes over the last ca. 50 million years. Image source: IODP.


The Integrated Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) and the Australian National University (ANU) have brought the first cores of IODP Expedition 371 from the submerged continent of Zealandia to the surface. Drilling is taking place in water depths of ca. 1500 m, with an ultimate recovery goal of six cores.

The now-submerged continent of Zealandia was largely part of Australia until 75 million years ago, when it started to break away and move to the northeast. That movement halted 53 million years ago, and data from the cores is expected to tell scientists information about plate motion, tectonics, and past climates. Cores recovered so far include several hundred metres of ocean sediment overlying a volcanic basement. Wasting no time, the scientists onboard the JOIDES Resolution have already gotten their research underway within the ship’s laboratories.

The IODP’s ongoing program of offshore exploration is filling an enormous crevasse in our understanding of the ocean and what lies beneath. This is the largest, most extensive, and most expensive scientific undertaking targeting Zealandia to date; an expedition of this scale has been in the making for several years and involves more than 30 scientists from more than 10 countries. It is designed to reveal how tectonic plates in the region have behaved in the past 50 million years. The research is key to understanding global climate and oceanography.


New Zealand’s exclusive economic zone is one of the world’s largest due to the discovery of the continent, Zealandia. Image source: Land Information New Zealand.


In addition to the value Zealandia can offer to science, the region also has a monetary value to New Zealand. Article 76 in the Convention on the Law of the Sea states that a country’s right to exploit the surrounding ocean is defined by the extent of its continental shelf. The discovery of Zealandia and its classification as a continent has allowed New Zealand to extend its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) claim much further into the sea than before, and to become one of the largest in the world. In a country like New Zealand where offshore oil and gas discoveries mean millions of dollars to the government in revenue, the incentive to explore and map the deep ocean is obvious.




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