Scientists Discover Eighth Continent Zealandia
Have you ever heard of Zealandia? If not, you are not alone. Zealandia is a hidden continent that lies mostly under the Pacific Ocean. It was only recently recognized as a continent by geologists, who have been studying its unique features and history. In this blog post, we will explore what Zealandia is, how it was discovered, why it is important, and some of the frequently asked questions about this mysterious landmass.
What is Zealandia?
Zealandia is a long, narrow microcontinent that is mostly submerged in the South Pacific Ocean. A microcontinent is a landmass that has broken off from a main continent. Zealandia broke off from Antarctica about 100 million years ago, and then from Australia about 80 million years ago. Zealandia is about half the size of Australia, but only 7 percent of it is above sea level. Most of that terrestrial land makes up the two large islands of the country of New Zealand, the North Island and the South Island. Stewart Island, just south of the South Island, and many smaller islets are also a part of Zealandia. New Caledonia, a collection of islands governed by France, makes up the northern tip of Zealandia.
How was Zealandia discovered?
Zealandia was not always hidden under the ocean. During the last ice age, about 20,000 years ago, sea levels were lower and more of Zealandia was exposed. The first humans to settle on Zealandia were the Polynesians, who arrived around 1300 AD. They named the land Aotearoa, which means “land of the long white cloud” in Maori. The Europeans arrived in the 17th century and named it New Zealand after the Dutch province of Zeeland.
The idea that Zealandia was a separate continent was first proposed by Bruce Luyendyk, a geophysicist from the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 1995. He based his hypothesis on the geological and geophysical evidence that showed that Zealandia had a distinct crustal structure and history from Australia and Antarctica. He also coined the name Zealandia, which means “new sea land” in Latin.
However, it was not until 2017 that a team of 11 geologists from New Zealand, New Caledonia, and Australia published a paper in the journal GSA Today that formally defined Zealandia as a continent. They used four criteria to classify continents: elevation above the surrounding area, distinctive geology, a well-defined area, and a crust thicker than the regular ocean floor. They argued that Zealandia met all these criteria and should be recognized as the eighth continent of the world.
Why is Zealandia important?
Zealandia is important for several reasons. First, it is a unique natural laboratory for studying how continents break apart and how life evolves on isolated landmasses. Zealandia has a rich biodiversity that includes many endemic species, such as the kiwi, the tuatara, and the kauri tree. It also has a diverse geological history that includes volcanoes, earthquakes, glaciers, and fjords.
Second, Zealandia has significant economic and political implications. It contains valuable mineral and natural gas resources that could be exploited in the future. It also affects the territorial claims and maritime boundaries of the countries that occupy it. For example, New Zealand has extended its exclusive economic zone to include most of Zealandia. However, there are still disputes with other countries over some parts of Zealandia, such as the Norfolk Ridge and the Lord Howe Rise.
Third, Zealandia challenges our conventional understanding of what constitutes a continent. It shows that continents are not static entities that can be easily defined by physical features. Rather, they are dynamic and evolving concepts that reflect our changing knowledge and perception of the world. As one of the authors of the 2017 paper said: “What defines a continent is an interesting question to think about because there’s no agreed definition.”
FAQs with answers
Here are some frequently asked questions about Zealandia that you may find interesting:
Q: Is Zealandia part of Oceania?
- A: Oceania is not a continent but a region that includes Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and many other islands in the Pacific Ocean. Zealandia is considered a separate continent from Australia because it has its own continental crust and geological history.
Q: Is there any life on submerged Zealandia?
- A: Yes, there are many marine organisms that live on or near submerged Zealandia. Some examples are corals, sponges, fish, whales, dolphins, seals, penguins, and seabirds.
Q: How can I visit Zealandia?
- A: The easiest way to visit Zealandia is to travel to New Zealand or New Caledonia by plane or boat. You can also take cruises or expeditions that explore some parts of Zealandia, such as the Kermadec Islands, the Chatham Islands, or the Bounty Islands. However, most of Zealandia is inaccessible to tourists because it is too deep or too remote.
Q: How can I learn more about Zealandia?
A: You can learn more about Zealandia by reading books, articles, or websites that cover its geology, biology, history, and culture. You can also watch documentaries or videos that showcase its beauty and diversity. Some of the sources that we used for this blog post are:
- [Zealandia: Earth’s Hidden Continent], a paper by a team of geologists who defined Zealandia as a continent in 2017.
- [Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand], a comprehensive online resource that covers various aspects of New Zealand’s natural and human environment.
- [Zealandia: The New Frontier], a documentary by National Geographic that explores the underwater wonders of Zealandia.
- Q: How did Zealandia get its name?
- A: Zealandia got its name from a geophysicist named Bruce Luyendyk, who first proposed that it was a separate continent in 1995. He coined the name Zealandia, which means “new sea land” in Latin, based on the name of New Zealand, the largest part of the landmass that is above sea level. The name of New Zealand, in turn, was derived from the Dutch province of Zeeland, which means “sea land” in Dutch. The Dutch explorer Abel Tasman was the first European to sight New Zealand in 1642, and he named it Staten Landt, thinking it was part of a landmass near the southern tip of South America. However, Hendrik Brouwer proved that the South American land was a small island in 1643, and Dutch cartographers subsequently renamed Tasman’s discovery Nova Zeelandia from Latin, after the Dutch province of Zeeland. This name was later anglicised to New Zealand.