POTSDAM, Germany, Feb. 25 (UPI) -- A 60-million-year-old "micro-continent" has been discovered under islands in the Indian Ocean, hidden under huge masses of lava, scientists say.
The continent fragment, dubbed Mauritia, was once a part of the ancient supercontinent of Eastern Gondwana that broke apart about 170 million years ago, parts of it becoming Madagascar, India, Australia and Antarctica which have over eons migrated to their present positions.
Researchers analyzing rock samples in the Indian Ocean say they believe they have found evidence of a sliver of microcontinent once tucked between India and Madagascar.
As India started to drift away from Madagascar toward its current location, the microcontinent would have broken up, eventually disappearing beneath the waves where it was covered up by lava from mantle plumes -- hot magma rising from the deep mantle that softens tectonic plates from below until the plates break apart at the hot spots.
Trond Torsvik of the University of Oslo in Norway said he believed pieces of Mauritia could be found about 6 miles down beneath the island of Mauritius under the Indian Ocean.
"But once upon a time, it was sitting north of Madagascar" before being swallowed up by lava as the Earth started evolving into its present continental configuration, he said.
The study, by geoscientists from Norway, South Africa, Britain and Germany, was published in the journal Nature Geoscience.