There’s another continent on Earth, and it’s been lurking in plain view for a long time. Geologists have traditionally identified six continents, combining Asia and Europe into Eurasia, but a new study reveals New Zealand and New Caledonia are actually part of a seventh geologic continent called Zealandia.
In the Geological Society of America‘s journal GSA Today, 11 scientists from institutions in New Zealand, New Caledonia, and Australia revealed the find. They claim New Caledonia and New Zealand aren’t just an island chain as was once thought, but are part of one 1.89 million square mile piece of continental crust that comprises Zealandia. Once part of the supercontinent Gondwana, now just around five percent of Zealandia is above the ocean’s surface.
To discern a continent, geologists consider four criteria: first, elevation above the ocean floor; second, if igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks can found; third, if the land is comprised of a thicker piece of crust compared against the ocean floor; and fourth, if there clearly defined limits around an area bigger than a continental fragment or microcontinent. While economically and culturally, we sometimes separate Asia and Europe as separate continents, geologists often combine the two in a continent called Eurasia, which means that Zealandia is the seventh continent on the planet – or eighth, depending on who you are talking to. Geologists have known for decades New Zealand and New Caledonia fit criteria one through three, but in their new study, the 11 scientists drew on satellite gravity data to help recognize Zealandia as a continent around the size of greater India.
If you think you’ve heard the word ‘Zealandia’ before, it’s because geophysicist Bruce Luyendyk, who wasn’t part of the new study, coined the name back in 1995, to refer to the two islands and other submerged pieces of crust that once broke off Gondwana. Luyendyk said he wasn’t trying to describe a new continent then, but he thinks the scientists’ find will be accepted. He told Business Insider, “These people here are A-list earth scientists. I think they have put together a solid collection of evidence that’s really thorough. I don’t see that there’s going to be a lot of pushback, except maybe around the edges.”
Luyendyk said there are clear economic implications to the study. United Nations agreements often describe continental shelves as boundaries that help determine resource extraction, and according to Business Insider New Zealand might have tens of billions of dollars of minerals and fossil fuels near its shores.
Via Business Insider