The Grand Canyon. The Great Barrier Reef. Mount Everest. Victoria Falls. You may not be able to remember all seven natural wonders of the world; but you could be forgiven for thinking there were only seven of them.
Well two scientists now reckon they have an eighth to add to the list: the Pink and White Terraces of New Zealand’s Lake Rotomahana, which were thought to have been destroyed in the late 1800’s by an eruption of a nearby volcano.
In a recent Frontiers Earth Science journal paper, researchers Andrew Martin Lorrey and John Mark Wooley argue that the fabled geothermal masterpiece was not destroyed in the 1886 eruption, and is preserved, Pompei-style, underneath a 10 metre coating of mud and ash.
As reported by Traveller, “A 19th century diary and hand-drawn maps have led scientists at New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research to confirm the location of the country’s lost natural wonder – the Pink and White Terraces.”
As stated in Lorrey and Wooley’s report, “Notes by Ferdinand von Hochstetter (b. 1829–d. 1884) has recently supported claims that the former Pink and White Terraces survived the 1886 eruption, and that they may be located under tephra adjacent to the modern lake margin.”
The two believe that our understanding of New Zealand’s largest historic volcanic eruption is “incomplete,” and that new technology combined with the insights they have gleaned from the 19th century German-Austrian geologist’s diary could ultimately lead to the excavation of what was once known as the eighth natural wonder of the world.
“The terraces formed over thousands of years as silica-rich water emerging from springs and boiling geysers crystallised into giant tiered staircases. The White Terrace covered more than three hectares while the smaller Pink Terrace was used for bathing on the lower levels. There was also a smaller, lesser known feature called Tuhi’s Spring, or the Black Terrace,” (Traveller).
Before Mt Tarawera erupted in 1886, Lake Rotomahana’s Pink and White Terraces were, “The greatest tourist attraction in the southern hemisphere and the British Empire, and shiploads of tourists made the dangerous visit down from the UK, Europe and America to see them,” Rex Bunn, another scientist, told The Guardian.
“But they were never surveyed by the government of the time, so there was no record of their latitude or longitude.”
This means greater significance than usual has been placed on Ferdinand von Hochstetter’s maps—the only resource currently available. Whilst his work has been studied in the past, disagreements have been common, and Lorrey and Wooley believe “modern geomorphic techniques” and “geophysical data” (if they get the funding to gather it) will help resolve this controversy.
In the Frontiers Earth Science Journal, they said, “We harnessed a wider amount of unique historic data than (has been used) previously to locate the sites of Lake Rotomahana’s former sinter terraces.”
According to them light detection and ranging (LIDAR) data suggests the need for a reconstruction of Hochstetter’s (1859) survey, particularly the southern margin of former Lake Rotomahana, to search for the lost wonder.
Although this isn’t the first time someone has claimed to have located the lost terraces (back in 2017 another group of scientists requested funding to prove a similar theory), Lorrey and Wooley are hoping to be the first to get (significant) funding to prove it.
Early signs indicate the scientists have the Tūhourangi Tribal Authority, for whom the (potential) discovery holds immense cultural significance, onside. And as Lorrey and Wooley point out, new technology could help their case, as virtual reality would enable a search to take place using far less invasive methods as have been considered in the past, like draining the lake.