Zealandia: the Eighth Continent
Europe, Asia, Africa, and Zealandia?
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How many continents are there? Most people would say seven, and up until a few weeks ago, they would be correct. However, a research group of 11 scientists have recently named an eighth continent on Earth: Zelandia.How could we have missed the eighth continent? Well, most of it is underwater. Only 6% of its total 4.9 million square kilometers is above water, the islands of New Zealand and New Caledonia While the majority of the continent can’t be seen, there are some key characteristics that geologists say makes Zealandia a continent just as much as North America or Africa.
Researchers have spent twenty years collecting enough evidence to support the claim that New Zealand is a continent, because for many geologists from the region, this revelation has been a long time coming. “This is not a sudden discovery but a gradual realisation; as recently as 10 years ago we would not have had the accumulated data or confidence in interpretation to write this paper,” said the authors of the study. Collecting information about the continent has been difficult because of how much of it is underwater. For example, researchers have only recently been able to determine the elevation of the continent above the ocean floor using satellites. However, they believed New Zealand was part of a larger continent for some time, just didn’t have the data to prove it.
According to researchers, Zealandia “won’t just be another name” on the list of continents. Zealandia is a relatively new continent, only breaking off from Australia about 60-85 million years ago and scientists say “That a continent can be so submerged yet unfragmented makes it (useful)… in exploring the cohesion and breakup of continental crust.” The authors of the study hope that the continent will be accepted by the public and included on maps and in atlases around the world. However, since there is no organization that officially recognizes continents, the acceptance of Zealandia will rely on public opinion.