As it turns out, we might have one more continent to add to Earth’s collection. Before you get too excited, though, the latest addition is mostly underwater. The continent, dubbed Zealandia, is composed of nearly 5 million square kilometers of land including New Zealand and New Caledonia. The rest of the continent is underwater, but researchers have determined that it is separate from the continent of Australia.
This piece of continental crust has been studied by scientists from New Zealand, Australia, and New Caledonia. They have determined that it is geologically separate from the continent of Australia although it is predominantly underwater. The researchers, some of whom have been working on the Zealandia research for over a decade, have determined that the landmass broke off from the supercontinent of Gondwana about 100 million years ago. The pulling of the continental shelf caused a thinning of the continental crust, submerging all but 6% of Zealandia’s mass. The continent is made up of geological material that is decidedly different from the volcanic rock and tectonic mixture of the surrounding area.
There is no governing body that approves or denies the existence of new landmasses on Earth. The very definition of what a continent is remains relatively vague; Zealandia’s status as a continent, pending wider scientific acceptance, could mean that continental bodies don’t have to just be above the water. Although it is unlikely that Zealandia will become a household name, researchers around the world can use this landmass to continue learning about the Earth’s past, the movement of tectonic plates millions of years ago, and how the formations of New Zealand and New Caledonia came to reside above the waters of the Pacific Ocean.
- Zealandia: Earth’s Hidden Continent. Jan-Mar 2017. GSA Today.
- Geologists spy an eighth continent: Zealandia. February 16, 2017. Nature.com.