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Terrace discovery most surprising yet

Published: 6:23AM Friday June 10, 2011 Source: ONE News


The latest development in the remarkable discovery of the Pink and White Terraces is the most surprising yet, according to a Lake Rotomahana expert.

After analysing maps of the bottom of the lake scientists have found what looks like two sets of terraces still largely intact.

In February, they revealed images of the pink terraces, proving they still exist.

Today they revealed a similar image which shows the bottom two tiers of the white terraces are still there too as well as the ridge that ran alongside them.

Dr Ron Keam from the University of Auckland told TV ONE's Breakfast this latest finding is remarkable.

"I was surprised about the pink (terraces) and I'm also surprised about the white," he said.

"I thought possibly there would be less chance of (finding) the white because after the eruption the crater was deeper and closer to them than it had been to where the pink terraces were."

The terraces were believed destroyed in the fallout from the violent eruption of Mount Tarawera 125 years ago today.

The terraces were New Zealand's first major tourist attraction and of huge spiritual significance to local iwi.

Anaru Rangiheuea - Tuhorangu Kaumata - told ONE New of the importance of the terraces.

"The history of the pink and white terraces is still alive and that's what many people from all over the world came to see, the eighth wonder of the world.

In the 19th Century, tourists from Europe flocked to view the glistening silica hot pools. Artists like Charles Blomfield created hundreds of paintings that made a buzz all around the world.

Greg McManus, Rotorua Museum Director said the discoveries should generate a fair amount of interest.

"It adds a whole another layer to the mystique of the pink and white terraces and another segment of the story that we tell in Rotorua. It's certainly going to be of real interest to tourists."

Now though Keam said it is unlikely people will be able to experience them for themselves.

"The only way would be submarine, and that is a bit problematic because it's an issue of if the water is sufficiently clear," he said.

"If a submarine was put in there it would need to get close enough to get some sort of impression of what they were like, and one really needs to stand back a bit and see the terraces and the tiers that used to be there."

The terraces were discovered by a team of scientists led by GNS who brought out an underwater mapping machine from the United States and scanned the bottom of Lake Rotomahana for any sign of the terraces and related geothermal activity.

Geologist Cornel de Ronde told ONE News the sonar images had taken several weeks to process but they believe there's every likelihood that parts of the white terraces also exist today.

"I think this is a really significant find. I've had people say to me that this is New Zealand's Titanic and I think it's a lot bigger than that," he said.

"What we'd like to do from this point on is penetrate through the lake floor and through the mud. Because what we've done so far only allows us to see what's on the lake floor."

De Ronde said most people thought the terraces were destroyed because of the devastating eruption but he said there was an enormous amount of material thrown out from the pre-existing Lake Rotomahana and tens of metres of mud covered the entire region.

"Possibly we're seeing the lower few terraces because there's been currents in the lake that have winnowed away the mud."

He said although currently they can see more of the pink section than the white there could be more terraces covered in mud.

"We can only see what's on the lake floor, we can't penetrate through the mud at the present time."

De Ronde hopes they will be able to deploy seismic equipment that will allow them to penetrate through the lake floor and the mud.

He said then "there's a very real chance that we can possibly create a 3D virtual image of all of the terraces, if in fact they still exist".

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