11 geologists composing a team from Australia and New Zealand have determined that the planet in fact has an 8th continent, which is 94% submerged beneath the ocean in the southwest Pacific.
Composed of 4.9 million square kilometers of landmass, they call the world’s smallest continent “Zealandia.” According to these people, this is the thinnest, youngest, and most submerged continent on our planet.
The thickness of Zealandia’s crust is somewhere around 10 kilometers to 30 kilometers, which increases to an estimated 40 kilometers under certain parts of New Zealand’s South Island.
As summarized by this research, put forth in the Geopolitical Society of America’s journal GSA Today, the continent known as Zealandia is somewhere around two thirds of the size of neighboring continent Australia, making it the seventh largest geological continent.
The size of Zealandia has been compared to the size of greater India, and it is thought that Zealandia was formerly a part of what they call the Gondwana supercontinent, along with India, Australia, Africa, South America, and Antarctica. It is thought that this area of that supercontinent sank beneath the ocean mostly about 100 million years ago.
Lead author of the study, Nick Mortimer who led a team of eight geologists at GNS Science said:
“Being >1 Mkm2 in area, and bounded by well-defined geologic and geographic limits, Zealandia is, by our definition, large enough to be termed a continent. At 4.9 Mkm2, Zealandia is substantially bigger than any features termed micro continents and continental fragments, ~12× the area of Mauritia and ~6× the area of Madagascar. It is also substantially larger than the area of the largest intraoceanic large igneous province, the Ontong Java Plateau (1.9 Mkm2).”
A study published by the GNS Science Research Institute in New Zealand, which took six years to complete, has determined that, much to the influence of world powers fighting over this region at some time in the future perhaps, tens of billions of dollars worth of fossil fuels may be located off-shore in the region known as Zealandia.
So the geologists came to the conclusion that in fact New Zealand and New Caledonia aren’t just chains of islands disconnected from each other, but they all belong to a 4.9 million square kilometer region that is distinctly separate from Australia.
To make the case for the existence of Zealandia, they sought out various lines of geophysical and geological evidence. This took over two decades.
In 1995, a geophysicist named Bruce Luyendyk coined the term Zealandia in fact, hypothesizing about the existence of it before it was fully confirmed. He called the term a “realization” as opposed to a “discovery,” which can be appreciated by anybody who is naturally intelligent and understands that observations can yield the truth without necessarily empirical evidence.
In a paper titled “Zealandia: Earth’s Hidden Continent,” Mortimer wrote:
“This is not a sudden discovery but a gradual realization; as recently as 10 years ago we would not have had the accumulated data or confidence in interpretation to write this paper. Since it was first proposed by Luyendyk (1995), the use of the name Zealandia for a southwest Pacific continent has had moderate uptake.
The scientific value of classifying Zealandia as a continent is much more than just an extra name on a list. 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.”
It’s sort of a matter of classification, titles, and all that, but it’s also true that no matter what people call it, these islands seem to be bound by one plate underneath the ocean. It’s innately interesting.