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article imageNew Zealand is part of a newly discovered continent

By Karen Graham     Feb 18, 2017 in Science
All school children are taught there are seven continents on the planet, but there may soon be an eighth continent, Zealandia. A new study suggests that a mostly submerged landmass in the southwest Pacific should be classified as a continent.
After over 20 years of research, scientists have come to the conclusion that a land mass, Zealandia, 1.9 million square miles (4.9 million square kilometers) in size, or about two-thirds the size of Australia, is actually a continent, even if it is 94 percent submerged.
Their findings and an explanation as to why the landmass fits the criteria to be a continent was published in the Geological Society of America's Journal, GSA Today.
The Christian Science Monitor explains that, according to the researchers, Zealandia fits the criteria for a continent - It has a high elevation in comparison to its surroundings, a good range of the three main types of geological formations, well-defined limits, and a crust that's thicker than the ocean floor.
The paper's authors say that the submerged continent has only three major landmasses we can see above the level of the ocean, New Zealand's North and South Islands to the south, and New Caledonia to the north. The South Island of New Zealand is the largest of the three landmasses and is the 12th largest island on Earth.
Simplified map of Earth’s tectonic plates and continents  including Zealandia. Continental shelf a...
Simplified map of Earth’s tectonic plates and continents, including Zealandia. Continental shelf areas shown in pale colors.
Geological Society of America
But interestingly, New Zealand and New Caledonia owe their formation and varied topography, and even their emergence above the ocean's waves, to the position they straddle between the Earth's Pacific and Indo-Australian Plates. The authors explain that we have to go back in time to when Zealandia was part of the Gondwana super-continent but broke away about 100 million years ago.
We have known about Zealandia for a long time, with it being described as a "microcontinent." Microcontinents are continental crustal fragments that broke off from main continental landmasses. And while all seven of our continents are fragments, the term microcontinent or fragment is only used if the landmass is smaller than Australia.
"The scientific value of classifying Zealandia as a continent is much more than just an extra name on a list," the researchers wrote, according to Phys.org. "That a continent can be so submerged yet unfragmented makes it (useful)... in exploring the cohesion and breakup of continental crust."
Topographical map of the Zealandia continent.
Topographical map of the Zealandia continent.
Geological Society of America
Lead author Nick Mortimer says that scientists have been gathering information and data on Zealandia for over 20 years, but studies have been difficult because most of it has been underwater. "If we could pull the plug on the oceans, it would be clear to everybody that we have mountain chains and a big, high-standing continent," he said.
There is actually no formal group or organization to apply to in getting a continent on the map. But Mortimer wants to get Zealandia accepted as another of the world's continents, especially when it is viewed on the map. "What we hope is that Zealandia will appear on world maps, in schools, everywhere," he said.
He added, "I think the revelation of a new continent is pretty exciting." And this writer thinks it's a great idea, too.
More about seven continents, New Zealand, part of new continent, Zealandia, 94 submerged
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