While Jurassic Park still only exists as a movie franchise and a Universal thrill ride, the Jurassic-era volcano world just discovered in Australia is very real.
Almost forgotten a mile beneath the Earth’s surface, about 100 volcanoes that used to belch lava 160-180 million years ago were found by a team of researchers exploring the barren Cooper and Eromanga Basins in South Australia and Queensland. These prehistoric volcanoes cover a stretch of 2,900 square miles. The area is rich in igneous rock from the Triassic and Jurassic periods (and also one of Australia’s major oil and gas) whose origins were hazy until now.
“Igneous rocks have been documented infrequently within end of well reports over the past 34 years, with a late Triassic to Jurassic age determined from well data,” the team said in a study recently published in Gondwana Research. “However, the areal extent and nature of these basaltic rocks were largely unclear.”
The volcanoes in what is now called the Warnie Volcanic Province weren’t actually unearthed in the sense of an archaeological dig. Analysis of subsurface rock, done with techniques similar to a computerized tomography (CT) scan you may need if you break a bone, revealed a whole subsurface landscape of volcanic craters, magma chambers and lava flows. While these volcanoes have been lying dormant—more like dead—for millions of years, the area was once seething with fire.
It’s kind of like the volcanoes and lava tunnels that are frozen in time on the moon.
There is also a mystery that emerged with this volcanic region. Volcanoes are usually created by the friction and heat at the edges of tectonic plates that pass each other. So how did they end up spewing the planet’s guts in the interior of Australia, which is nowhere near a hotbed of tectonic activity? This is a rare find with almost no data from similar discoveries to compare it to. Those lunar volcanoes are a whole different phenomenon, because there are no tectonic plates on the moon.
Volcanoes don’t just erupt out of nowhere. The ancient volcanism nobody expected could have something to do with how the continent developed in the first place. More in-depth exploration is finally starting to happen over there, which is why previously undiscovered dinosaurs and other relics of the past now keep surfacing. That also raises the question of what else could possibly be lurking below our feet.
“The discovery of the WVP raises the possibility of other, yet unidentified, volcanic provinces worldwide,” the team said.
So that volcano scene in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom might have been supposed to take place now, but could have really gone down 180 million years ago.