24 October 2018
Geologist shares ground-breaking findings at Alex du Toit lecture
From the left: Prof Marian Tredoux, Associate Professor in the UFS Department of Geology, Prof Lew Ashwal, and Snegugu Zigubu, BSc (Hons) Geology student.

The Department of Geology at the University of the Free State (UFS) was recently the host of a lecture in the 2018 Alex du Toit Memorial Lecture series.

The speaker at this event was the A-rated NRF researcher, Prof Lew Ashwal from the University of the Witwatersrand. He addressed academics and geology students on ‘Wandering continents of the Indian Ocean’.

Lost continent found

In this talk he specifically shared the research he conducted on the islands of Madagascar (which he visited 30 times to conduct field work and says it is not for the faint-hearted), the Seychelles, and Mauritius. 

Two things stood out in his lecture: the way in which his findings on the three islands helped to refine details about the assembly of the Gondwana supercontinent, and the report of a ‘lost continent’ found under Mauritius. 

These discussions were linked by Prof Ashwal’s belief that the so-called lost continent he found under Mauritius is a leftover from the break-up of Gondwana,

The discovery was made when he and a team of researchers found zircon from 2000 million years ago on a 9-million-year-young island. He believes that the piece of crust (where the tested zircon probably formed), which was covered by lava during recent volcanic eruptions on the island, is a tiny piece of the ancient continent which broke off from Madagascar, when Africa, India, Australia and Antarctica split up and formed the Indian Ocean.

Media frenzy 

The fact that the team of researchers found these extremely old minerals proves that there are materials under Mauritius that originated from a continent under the island. 

Prof Ashwal is studying the break-up process of the continents in order to understand the geological history of the planet.

For his work Prof Ashwal has enjoyed coverage from publications as far apart in focus from each other as The New York Times and Cosmopolitan magazine. 

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