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Queens College Scientist Stephen Pekar Will Join First Major Expedition to Explore the Lost Continent of Zealandia

-- 30 Researchers from 12 Nations Will Leave in July to Probe
of Mysterious Sunken World East of Australia --

QUEENS, NY, June 22, 2017 – The lost continent of Atlantis, a myth dating back to the days of ancient Greece, continues to assert its power over the human imagination even though Atlantis never existed. Perhaps that explains the international sensation caused by an article, “Zealandia: Earth’s Hidden Continent,” published in February in the scientific journal GSA Today.

On July 27, a team of 30 scientists from a dozen nations will come together through the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) for a two-month exploration of what they consider a real-life lost continent. Named “Zealandia” for its location near New Zealand, this eighth continent is an enormous land mass, once part of Australia, that wasn’t always hidden below the waves.

Among the ten Americans onboard the scientific drillship JOIDES Resolution will be geologist Stephen Pekar, a professor of earth and environmental science at Queens College, CUNY. Pekar, a resident of Forest Hills, Queens, is the only expedition scientist from New York.

By drilling up to 900 meters--over half a mile--below the sea floor, Pekar and his colleagues will obtain 50-to-60 million-year-old sedimentary core samples that may contribute to our understanding of climate change.

“The samples we’ll extract come from a time when carbon dioxide was at the level that’s being predicted for us later this century,” said Pekar. “And so in effect, we’ll be looking back to our future. We may also learn whether past climate was unusually warm in the region. Answers to these questions are among the missing pieces of the climate puzzle.”

In addition, he says, the core samples can help scientists learn when and why portions of the land mass ripped away, submerged, rose up and submerged again, and how continent movement relates to global plate motion.

International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) supporting the expedition is an international research collaboration involving over 20 countries that coordinates seagoing expeditions to study the history of the earth recorded in sediments and rocks beneath the ocean floor. Its exploratory expeditions attract talented scientists from universities worldwide—sedimentologists like Pekar, as well as geochemists, paleontologists and other specialists who compete for the opportunity to conduct trailblazing research at sea.

In the confined space of the JODIES Resolution ship (operated on behalf of the National Science Foundation), the Americans will work closely with fellow scientists from Italy, Germany, Spain, Netherlands, UK, China, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, New Caledonia and Brazil. When it comes to communication, what might have been a floating Tower of Babel will instead be a smooth-sailing vessel because everyone speaks English, the universal language of science.

“Once the expedition is underway, a videographer and science teacher onboard will create live ship-to-shore events that will put the scientists directly in touch with people on land,” said Carl Brenner, director of the U.S. Science Support Program for IODP. Pekar is familiar with this kind of multi-media outreach. While on a drilling expedition in Antarctica, he participated in a live exchange with public school students from their Harlem classroom.

After the ship pulls into the port of Hobart, Australia, on September 26 and the scientists return home, the core samples, expected to number in the thousands, will be closely examined in their university laboratories. The group plans to come together again—on land—in January 2018.

“By early next year, I expect that my students will be assisting with the analysis, performing such tasks as looking at sediments and microfossils in the samples,” Pekar said. An active recruiter of the next generation of geologists, Pekar has mentored Queens high school students in his lab over the years and hopes to get budding scientists involved in the project.

Pekar’s interest in investigating past climate change has involved core-drilling from near-shore to deep-sea locations ranging from the tropics to Antarctica, which he has explored four times, once as a project leader. During one Antarctic expedition, he experienced storms that unleashed 30-foot-high seas.

The scientist-explorers face other challenges besides brutal weather. “You’re on a mission, so you expect 12-hour shifts seven days a week and being away from loved ones,”
he said. “But it’s also beautiful out at sea, especially at sunrise.”

A native of Queens, Pekar grew up in the Rockaways and earned his bachelor’s degree in geology from Queens College after switching from his original major, 20th century music composition, at the college’s famed Aaron Copland School of Music. He went on to earn a PhD in geology at Rutgers University and conducted post-doctoral work at Columbia University.

“I’m enthralled with exploring and discovering new places and ideas,” said Pekar, who is a member of the legendary Explorers Club in New York City. He has traveled to over 50 countries and worked in six of them at jobs ranging from house pianist for a restaurant in Israel to grape picking in Germany and movie extra in China.

For more information on this upcoming expedition to explore the lost continent of Zealandia, please visit:

About the School of Environmental Sciences (SEES) at Queens College
SEES goes beyond the classic discipline of geology to encompass interdisciplinary approaches. New majors including a master’s program in Geotechnology, high-tech laboratories, and renowned teaching faculty who’ve explored the earth from Bangladesh to Nicaragua, Turkey to Long Island Sound, ensure the School’s leadership position among college environmental programs in New York.
About Queens College
Queens College graduates the most teachers, counselors and principals in the metropolitan area. The college contributes to the local talent pool as a powerful economic engine and a leader in tech education, with more computer science majors than any college in New York City. Queens College also has the third-highest number of accounting and business students in all of New York State. Students from across the country and around the world are attracted to study at the Aaron Copland School of Music. Its renowned faculty and alumni include nationally recognized composers, conductors and performers who have received nearly 40 Grammy Awards and nominations over the past 40 years.
Queens College enjoys a national reputation for its liberal arts and sciences and pre-professional programs. With its graduate and undergraduate degrees, honors programs, and research and internship opportunities, the college helps its nearly 19,000 students realize their potential in countless ways, assisted by an accessible, award-winning faculty. Located on a beautiful 80-acre campus in Flushing, the college is cited each year in the Princeton Review as one of the nation’s 100 “Best Value” colleges, as well as being ranked a U.S. News and World Report Best College and Forbes Magazine Best Value College thanks to its outstanding academics, generous financial aid packages, and relatively low costs. Visit our homepage to learn more.

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