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February 26, 2013

Lemuria Rising: Scientists Think They've Found a Sunken Continent

Hey, In Search Of told me there was at least one sunken continent, if not three of them. Lemuria, Mu, Atlantis... all sleeping under the sea.

So here's your In Search Of news of the day.

In a paper published online Monday in Nature Geoscience, an international research team reports that it has found evidence of a lost "microcontinent" in the Indian Ocean, northeast of Madagascar. The scientists analyzed sands they found on the beaches of the island nation of Mauritius and found traces of an ancient form of the mineral zircon. That's noteworthy because Mauritius is a relatively young, volcanic island, while zircon of that age is typically found in much older, continental crust.*

The researchers propose that the minerals came from a long-submerged landmass that was once wedged between India and Madagascar in a prehistoric supercontinent known as Rodinia. The theory is that, as India and Madagascar began to drift apart some 85 million years ago, the landmass broke apart and sank, Atlantis-style. The scientists have dubbed their lost microcontinent "Mauritia."

Yeah it's fun, but I have a couple of problems. First, they call it a "micro-continent," which is another way of saying "not a continent," because "continent" is grabbier than "island." So already they've got some credibility problems.

The other things... how do continents "sink"? Ships sink because they float. When they stop floating, they sink.

Continents don't float. Well, I guess they float on magma twenty five miles down or something, but they don't "sink" like a ship, though the idea of this is stuck in the popular imagination.

They could fall lower than sea level... but... like, not all that far down. Where does all the submarine landmass wind up going? Does it just break apart like a crumbling house?

The other thing is this: Because these sorts of "Catastrophic" events are frequently pitched about the Old Earth's history, science has created a prophylactic bias against "Catastrophism." Just so many crank theories were pitched under this banner -- such as Velikovsky's magic comet, Venus, ejected from Jupiter (precisely as Venus sprang from Jupiter's head in Greek myth) -- that science began to dismiss catastrophic-explanations on their face, and insist upon Gradual Process explanations ("gradualism").

Of course this bias has its costs; for years scientists resisted the Asteroid theory of dinosaur mass extinction, because that was indeed a Castastrophic explanation, and they preferred gradualist ones (like, I don't know, overpopulation leading to mass die-offs).

But that said, there is still a reason to have one's Skeptical Cap on when reading about theories of Old Earth Continent-Sinking Catastrophes. The human brain just loves these theories too darned much! It's like Rock-n-Roll Geology! So you have to discount for human bias.

And then of course... It's suspicious that we may find Mu, Lemuria, and Atlantis too:

But if the researchers are right, Mauritia may turn out not to be the only ancient continental fragment lurking deep beneath the sea. Oxford geologist Conall Mac Niocaill told the magazine there are several other places on earth whose gravitational field might suggest the presence of submerged continental crust.

Would one of them be somewhere off the coast of Europe, perhaps? Where an advanced civilization predating the Greeks might have arisen and then fallen?

Still, I loves me some sunken continent stuff. I know it's all (or almost all) bunk, but I can't help but love it anyway.

If Velikovsky's Venus-the-Comet Theory Sounds Familiar to You But You Don't Know Why... Maybe you heard of him from the guy I did.


Hm: I completely forgot his point in bringing Velikovsky up -- he didn't bring up Velikovsky to knock psuedoscience.

He brought up Velikovsky because other scientists attempted to suppress uncomfortable theories. That is, they decided because the theory was wrong, it had to be suppressed.

He brings this up to make the point that science must never suppress "bad theories" -- it should only disprove them.

Sounds like that might have some applicability to a current theory much in vogue where dissenters aren't permitted publication in major scholarly magazines.


Oh, By the Way: This conservative anti-science blog provided a dollop of skepticism here, and linked the reason for skepticism (the prophylactic bias against Catastrophism), whereas the pro-science liberal blog Slate just ran with it without any background about skepticism about this latest of dozens of claims of Lost Continents.

Science.

It can mean anything you want it to mean.

That doesn't mean these scientists are wrong, of course. But there is reason for skepticism, and not so much OMG You Guys, Lost Continent!

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posted by Ace at 03:51 PM

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