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Scientists discover national treasure

Published: 11:47AM Wednesday February 02, 2011 Source: ONE News

A team of scientists has announced the discovery of the legendary Terraces beneath the waters of Lake Rotomahana, near Rotorua.

Three months ago ONE News revealed plans by scientists to search Lake Rotomahana for any trace of the Pink and White Terraces.

A GNS team using underwater robots and sonar explored Lake Rotomahana searching for hydrothermal vents and any surviving remains of terraces, which were destroyed in the 1886 eruption of Mt Tarawera.

After Tarawera exploded, large craters blew out of Lake Rotomahana and Lake Rotomakariri, forming the one big lake that is still there today.

Scientists found no evidence that the White Terraces survived the eruption. But this week they discovered a large section - the bottom two tiers of the Pink Terraces, including the hot pools and the hydrothermal system that fed them - is still intact.

The result is the opposite to what they thought, having believed the White Terraces would still exist because they were protected by a ridge and the Pinks were probably destroyed because they were in the line of the lava flow.

The discovery was made during a joint New Zealand-American project to map the lake floor and investigate the large geothermal system under the lake.

Two autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) have clearly revealed crescent-shaped terraced structures in about 60 metres of water where the Pink Terraces were located prior to 1886. They are covered by a brownish lake sediment.

Project leader Cornel de Ronde said the team was elated at the discovery.

"The first sonar image gave a hint of a terraced structure so we scanned the area twice more and we are now 95% certain we are seeing the bottom two tiers of the Pink Terraces."

The Pink and White terraces were separated by several hundred metres prior to the eruption.

De Ronde said the discovery puts to rest more than a century of speculation as to whether any part of the Pink and White Terraces survived the eruption.

"What's remarkable about this is that they've been kind of hidden for over a hundred years," he said.

"Highlights in a science career don't come any better than this."

The mapping was done in collaboration with scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) who brought their world-class underwater technology and camera systems to New Zealand to accomplish the work.

The Terraces were considered the eighth wonder of the world and were a major tourist attraction before the 1886 eruption.

Rotorua Mayor Kevin Winters hopes the discovery will be just as popular today.

"We've always been in the visitor industry for the last 150 years. This adds a whole new dimension to our visitor industry and this may capture them," Winters said.

Anaru Rangiheuea of Tuhorangi Kaumatua said today's discovery brought back memories of the eruption.

"It brings back a few tears and a few feelings of my people, that were all buried and killed in the aftermath of the eruption," Rangiheuea said.

Scientists hope to venture back under Lake Rotomahana to see if anything else lies hidden.