The Eighth Continent
Till now, we knew that the Earth is divided into 7 continents, i.e. Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, South America, Antarctica, and Australia. But, it’s time to revisit Geography books now. Scientists have discovered a new continent under the Pacific Ocean: Zealandia.
The world’s encyclopaedias, maps and search engines for some time were determined over the fact that there are only seven continents, but a team of 11 researchers of New Zealand, New Caledonia and Australia have confidently informed the world that this was wrong. Their recently published paper states: “There are eight after all – and the latest addition breaks all the records, as the smallest, thinnest, and youngest in the world. The catch is that 94% of it is underwater, with just a handful of islands, such as New Zealand, thrusting out from its oceanic depths. It had been hiding in plain sight all along.”
In 1642, Abel Tasman, an experienced Dutch sailor and penchant for rough justice, was confident that in the southern hemisphere exists a vast continent and he was determined to find it. He believed that he had discovered the great southern continent, evidently, it was hardly the commercial utopia he had envisaged and then he did not return.
Later, in 2017, a group of geologists made headlines for their announcement of discovering Zealandia – Te Riu-a-Māui in the Māori language – a vast continent of 1.89 million sq miles (4.9 million sq km), thus proving Tasman right, after all.
Why it is being called as a continent?
Continents are Earth’s largest crustal solid objects and, as defined by Geology, a continent is “One of the Earth’s major land masses, covering both dry land and continental shelves”. According to geologists, Zealandia is a continent because of the kinds of rocks found there, despite that it is thin and is submerged. The ocean floor is more just made up of igneous ones such as basalt. While the continental crust tends to be made up of igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary rocks — like granite, schist and limestone. Based on these standards, researchers are calling it a new continent as it fulfils the important criteria of:
a. having a defined area
b. being at an elevation as compared to its surrounding
c. having a significantly thick crust
d. having a distinct geology
Size and areas
Zealandia separated from the great continent of Gondwana between 79 and 83 million years ago. After this separation, it is still submerged next to Australian territory with a land area of 4.9 million kilometres, almost half the size of Australia.
The country of New Zealand’s two big islands, the North Island and the South Island, make up the majority of that terrestrial territory. Zealandia also includes Stewart Island, which is located in south of the South Island, as well as a number of smaller islets. The northern extremity of Zealandia is made up of New Caledonia, a cluster of French-governed islands. It is said to have a large number of mineral deposits, fossil fuels and natural gas fields. For now, most resources are under New Zealand jurisdiction.
The writer is a member of staff.