Meet “Zealandia” – A New But Hidden Continent You Should Tell Your Kids



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Feb 17 2017
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This is not a new discovery, but a gradual realization. How would you answer if your kids ask how many continents are there on planet Earth? You might answer seven – Africa, Asia, Australia, Antarctica, Europe, North America and South America. But if you’re a geologist, you might answer six because Europe and Asia are combined as Eurasia as they’re one solid landmass.

 

So, geographically and by most standards, there’re seven continents. Now, you can proudly tell your kids that there’re actually eight – yes, EIGHT – continents on this planet. This new continent, called Zealandia, is so closed to Australia continent that the crust of the two continents are just 25 kilometres apart – at the Cato Trough, off the coast of Queensland.

Zealandia Continent - Geographical Map Separating from Australia

Zealandia isn’t a new discovery but for the first time, 11 scientists have presented their findings in the study “Zealandia: Earth’s Hidden Continent” in Geological Society of America, making a case for Zealandia to be recognised as the world’s eighth continent in its own right. And modern-day New Zealand is just the tip of the “Zealandia Continent”.

 

The concept of Zealandia was first coined by geophysicist Bruce Luyendyk back in 1995. But he didn’t and couldn’t call it a continent simply because at that time, it didn’t qualify as a continent. Back then, it possessed only three of the four necessary qualities required for continent status. But now scientists believe they’ve found the fourth quality.

Zealandia Continent - World Map

A recent discovery using satellite technology and gravity maps of the sea floor have revealed that Zealandia is a large unified area, fulfilling all four requirements. Geophysical data suggest that a region spanning 4.9 million square kilometres, which includes New Zealand and New Caledonia, is a single, intact piece of continental crust and is geologically separate from Australia.

 

“If you could pull the plug on the world’s oceans, then Zealandia would probably long ago have been recognized as a continent,” – says team leader Nick Mortimer, a geologist at GNS Science in Dunedin, New Zealand. Mortimer and his colleagues have been making the case for Zealandia for more than a decade, in talks, popular articles and books.

Zealandia Continent - Hidden Crust - Map

Mortimer’s team reported that Zealandia began to peel away from the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana starting about 100 million years ago. The rift gave Zealandia its independence, but it also pulled and thinned the crust, causing the area to sink. Today, only about 6% of Zealandia remains above water – as New Zealand and New Caledonia.

 

With 94% of Zealandia under water, there would be very little interest to rush for it to be recognized as a new continent. However, a six-year study by the GNS Science research institute in New Zealand revealing that tens of billions of dollars worth of fossil fuels could be located off-shore in the region would definitely make Australia and New Zealand rushing and fighting for the wealth.

Zealandia - The Hidden Continent

New Zealand, the land of the “Hobbits” and “Lord of the Rings”, is essentially sitting on a hidden continent more than half the size of the Australian continent and bigger than all of India and certainly larger than Greenland. If admitted to the club of continents, Zealandia will be the world’s youngest, thinnest and most submerged continent.

 

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