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Thu Oct 23 01:11:16 SAST 2014

Zircons of Mauritius point to ancient mini-continent

Times LIVE | 21 May, 2013 10:00
Zircon. File photo.
Image by: Teravolt / Wikipedia

According to analysis of sand particles from Mauritius, the Island may be hiding a micro-continent that scientists have named Mauritia.

"The sand grains contain zircons aged between 660 and 1 970 million years, which is explained by the fact that the zircons were carried by the lava as it pushed through subjacent continental crust of this age," according to Wits university.

Wits university said Zircons are hardly ever found in oceans.

The university said that this provides evidence that Mauritius sits atop a fragment of continental plate from 90 million years ago, when Madagascar split from the Indian subcontinent. This fragment was then buried in massive amounts of lava.

According to Professor Lewis Ashwal from Wits University, who was part of the team of geoscientists from Norway, South Africa, Britain and Germany who announced the find, the breakup of continents is often associated with mantle plumes (an upwelling of abnormally hot rock in the Earth's mantle).

These heat bubbles weaken the rock from below, until eventually the surface rock breaks up.

According to the university's website, if Mauritius is shown to be a continent it does have geopolitical implications, as such a finding would extend the country's claim to the ocean territory around it "possibly all the way up to the Seychelles."

Read the full report on Wits' website.

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