Zealandia Is the Continent You Never Knew Existed

In school, you were probably taught about seven continents—Africa, Asia, Antarctica, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America. But did you know that, according to geologists, there's another hidden continent? Zealandia, a term first coined in 1995, is the name of a piece of sunken continental subcrust off the coast of Australia. And now, researchers are saying that it qualifies as its own continent.

In a study published in GSA, a group of top-notch scientists have come together and pooled 10 years of research proving that Zealandia is, geologically, its own continent.  Bruce Luyendyk, a geophysicist at the University of California at Santa Barbara, came up with the name Zealandia in 1995 to describe New Zealand, New Caledonia, and submerged pieces of crust that broke off the Gondwana supercontinent and separated from Australia 60 to 85 million years ago. While Luyendyk wasn't involved in the study, he supports their findings. “These people here are A-list earth scientists,” said Luyendyk, “I think they've put together a solid collection of evidence that's really thorough.”

The study states that New Zealand and New Caledonia are not just island chains, but part of the Zealandia continent, which is a 1.89 million-square-mile piece of continental crust. The researchers looked at the diversity of igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks within the slab, as well as height differences relative to the ocean floor, and well-defined limits around large areas. They also looked at recent satellite-based elevations and gravity maps to see that the region did appear unified. This led to the conclusion that Zealandia can indeed be classified as a continent.

Only 6% of the entire continent—which is about the size of greater India—pokes out above water, which is part of what kept it off the radar for so long. “The scientific value of classifying Zealandia as a continent is much more than just an extra name on a list,” the researchers write. “That a continent can be so submerged yet unfragmented makes it a useful and thought-provoking geodynamic end member in exploring the cohesion and breakup of continental crust.”

Zealandia - Hidden Continent

Simplified map of Earth’s tectonic plates and continents, including Zealandia. (Photo: N. Mortimer et al./GSA Today)

h/t: [IFL Science!]

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Staff Editor and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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