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The pink and white terraces of New Zealand were once hailed as one of the greatest natural wonders of the world and were believed to be the largest silica deposits on the entire planet.
Unfortunately, the sensational natural phenomenon was totally covered in the volcanic eruption of Mount Tarawera in 1886 and it was believed that it was lost forever. However, new research into the astonishing terraces suggests that it might be possible to recover them underneath the deposits of volcanic ash.
The pink and white terraces of New Zealand were cited by scientists in the nineteenth century as being the largest silica ‘sinter’ deposits on planet Earth. Sintering is a fairly unusual process when a mineral spring or a geyser expels enough sedimentary rocks to form a crust which can lead to the creation of terraces or cones around the water’s edge. The white terrace, which was formed in this way, lay on the north-east corner of Lake Rotomahana and the unusual pink terrace was located close by. It is believed that the pink terraces gained their color because of the presence of pigmented bacteria in the water such as Thermus ruber.
When scientists came across the extraordinary formations in the Victorian period they became one of the greatest tourist attractions in the British Empire with hundreds of tourists making the visit from all over the world to see them.
But despite the huge amount of interest in the terraces at the time, the government of the age did not carry out a longitudinal study on their location. Unfortunately, this meant that when Mount Tarawera erupted in 1886 it became impossible for scientists and geographers to locate the terraces again. It was believed that the natural formation had been lost to the world forever.
More than a hundred years later, however, two men had still not given up hope of revealing the terraces to the world again. Rex Bunn and Sascha Nolden of the National Library of New Zealand have been on the hunt for a clue that might allow them to track down the terraces. Their lifeline came in the form of a diary which belonged to a nineteenth century geologist named Ferdinand von Hochstetter. In 1859, Hochstetter was commissioned by the government of New Zealand to make a geological survey of the islands. In his notes, he roughly outlined the position of the terraces at the time of writing. Using his notes, Bunn and Nolden created a map using a technique referred to as forensic cartography in a bid to uncover the most likely place the terraces were hidden.
The process turned out to be a lot more difficult than the two men expected that it would be. Bunn says that it took them around 2500 hours to pinpoint the most likely location of the terraces as the volcanic eruption distorted the landscape dramatically which meant that Hochstetter’s maps were no longer completely accurate.
Despite the difficulty associated with their mission, the two men are confident that they are close to locating the amazing terraces. “We’re confident, to the best of our ability, we have identified the terrace locations. We’re closer than anyone has ever been in the last 130 years, ” said Bunn. While it is still too soon to definitively say that the men have discovered the terraces, it is hoped that their hard work will pay off. Bunn said that he hopes that, “the pink and white terraces may in some small way return, to delight visitors to Rotorua as they did in the 19th century, ” as a result of his work.
The research has been published in the Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand.