There is an entire, submerged and unrecognised continent that has been hiding until now, according to scientists. New Zealand is sitting on top of the geological entity, most of which sits underneath the South Pacific and so can’t be seen, according to a major new paper.
In a paper published in the Geological Society of America’s Journal, researchers explain that Zealandia measures five million sq km which is about two thirds of neighbouring Australia.
The continent — known as Zealandia — is a distinct geological entity and meets all the criteria that are satisfied by the existing seven continents, the researchers said.
It is elevated above the area that surrounds it, has its own distinctive geology, the area that it takes up is well defined and has a crust thicker than the regular ocean floor — just like the seven masses we currently class as continents.
The new continent is 94% under water, according to the new paper. It is made up of three major landmasses: New Zealand’s north and south islands, and New Caledonia to the north.
Scientists said that by classifying it as a continent they would be able to study how they are formed and break up, and that it wouldn’t just be amatter of moving from a total of seven to eight. “The scientific value of classifying Zealandia as a continent is much more than just an extra name on a list,” the researchers from New Zealand’s official geological body GNS Science wrote.
“That a continent can be so submerged yet unfragmented makes it (useful)…in exploring the cohesion and breakup of continental crust.”
Finding data on the continent has been difficult because so much of it is beneath the sea. “If we could pull the plug on the oceans, it would be clear to everybody that we have mountain chains and a big, highstanding continent,” lead author Nick Mortimer told New Zealand TV station TVNZ. Having the continent recognised isn’t a matter of appealing to any official body, and there is no codified list of what continents exist. So it could only change over time if future research accepts Zealandia on par with the rest so that eventually we might be learning about eight, not seven, continents.