Nature Science

Zealandia: The Brand-New Continent On Earth

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Since the childhood, we all are taught that there are only seven continents – Africa, Australia, Asia, Europe, Antarctica, North America, and South America. Even we have also heard about the Eurasia which is the supercontinent by joining Europe and Asia in a group – making for a total of six geologic continents.

However, the latest study regarding Earth’s crust also has found a new continent named Zealandia which is considered as the seventh geologic continent.

_94686390_tv033259993New Zealand as captured from space by astronaut Tim Peake

Zealandia has not been discovered suddenly; rather it’s a long and slow process which was started 10 years ago. The researchers also expressed and wrote in a journal of the Geological Society of America that they had no confidence in writing this paper 10 years ago.

Why Zealandia is almost considered as a new continent

As of now, we know that Luyendyk coined the ‘Zealandia’ term in 1995 and thus it’s already familiar to us. Well, it was never thought to be a brand-new one. Instead, this term was actually used for describing New Zealand, New Caledonia, and a few submerged pieces and crust slices which separated a region of 200-year old Gondwana.

As per Luyendyk, out of convenience is the reason of this specific term. They are portions of the similar thing whenever you look at Gondwana. So, you don’t need to give it differently. However, the researchers behind this latest study developed the concept of Luyendyk. They examined it with 4 criteria which were used by the geologists.

Zealandia, shown in red to the east of AustraliaZealandia, shown in gray to the east of Australia, is likely Earth's seventh geologic continent. N. Mortimer et al./GSA Today

According to the geologists, the New Zealand and New Caledonia are two big islands which are geologically not same, poke up from the sea floor, and are really made of less dense and thicker crust. This is the reason why Luyendyk coined the term ‘Zealandia’ and described it as a continent.

However, there is still question about considering Zealandia as a continent. So, in a nutshell, this brand-new continent on earth appeared broken up. The latest study which is basically based on gravity maps of the old seafloor shows that Zealandia is actually a part of a unified region. Simultaneously the study says that this continent extends larger and greater than Greenland, New Guinea, Madagascar and other pieces of the crust.

Detailed info about Zealandia, the geologic devil

We have seen authors pointing out India as really big enough to be a continent as it is a part of Eurasia. In the meantime, Zealand hasn’t even hit Australia. The Cato Trough, a piece of seafloor still breaks off the contents by 15.5 miles.

The elevation map of Zealandia and nearby AustraliaThe elevation map of Zealandia

Two tectonic plates are dividing Zealandia into the northern and southern segments: the Australian Plate and the Pacific Plate. However, according to the researchers, India, Arabia and the parts of Central America also have same divisions but they are still taken as the parts of larger continents.

As per the suggestions of the rock samples, Zealandia is made of the similar continental crust which made the Gondwana also and even it migrated in similarly like Australia and Antarctica. As per the samples, Zealandia is not completely broken up. Rather, the tectonic plates have just become stretched, thinned and submerged only.

Well, now just about 5% of Zealandia is visible and this is the main reason that researchers took much time to discover it. But, Luyendyk’s curiosity is still there. It’s still not clear to him which one is the part of New Zealand and which one is not.

Zealandia: The Brand-New Continent On Earth
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Supriti Ganguly

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