We learnt in school that there are seven continents in the world. But with technological advancement we stand to change textbooks. Soon, a new member will join the continent family. This new member is Zealandia.
Zealandia, a new mass of land off the coast of Australia stands to in line to be the 8th continent. Or maybe not. Let me tell you that this is not a new discovery. An American geophysicist Bruce Luyendyk coined the name Zealandia over 20 years ago. Recently, with the help of new technology the geologists were able to find out that Zealandia has thicker crust than that of an ocean bed. New Zealand and New Caledonia are formed as the land is elevated, though it is submerged under the Pacific Ocean.
This discovery will hopefully help in understanding the unique flora and fauna of these two countries. However, there are some questions attached to this too. Who gets to decide whether a landmass is a continent or not? What makes up a continent? On what basis are the existing seven continents recognized? Hopefully this discovery will also help clarify these doubts. But for our sakes we did a little background research of our own, too. In order to be termed as a continent, a landmass needs to have four characteristics. These are Elevation, Distinct Geology, Crustal Structure and Limit and Area.
Zealandia is geologically distinct from Australia. It is partially elevated to form New Zealand and Caledonia. Similarly, it has a distinct land mass and considerable area. And this area is almost as big as the Indian sub-continent. Its crustal structure is thicker than that of the ocean beds. These factors are indicative of a good chance of it being recognized as the 8th continent. However, the current problem is that, that there is no international body to recognise a continent.
Continents, by definition are large, continuous, discreet mases of land separated by expanses of water. While Zealandia fits these distinctions, there is no strict adherence to these categories even with the current continents. The best example for this is Eurasia. As per geologists Europe and Asia are classified as one huge landmass called Eurasia. They are not separated by any water body and have the similar rock type, but are considered as different continents due to historical and cultural reasons. Earlier the geologists used to consider the Americas a continent as South and North America by Isthmus of Panama. Similarly Africa-Eurasia could be counted as one landmass because they are connected by the Isthumus of Suez.
But sometimes the continents have sub-continents within themselves because of being on different tectonic plates. In such case the Indian Sub-continent is the best example of it.
Our definition of identifying a continent falls in grey area. Because it is quiet evident by the way of classification of the existing continents that it is on the basis of historical convention. Otherwise the only continents following the rules of definition are Antarctica and Australia. The clarity of continent classification is really something as there are further classification within a continent. There are Supercontinents, which are landmasses consisting of more than one craton. Then there are Subcontinents, which are large parts of the continent separated by geographical features (like peninsulas). Microcontinents are the sections of continental crust that have drifted apart. And Botanical continents are merely classified simply on the basis of biodiversity.
Then we have what we call as Submerged continents, the continents that sank in the oceans when they broke away from the main landmass. Zealandia may or may not be considered a continent but it is already known as one of the only two known submerged continents on Earth. Zealandia probably broke away from Australia forming one of the the submerged continents in the Pacific ocean. The only plateau that is almost emtirely submerged in the Indian Ocean is Kerguelen Plateau. However, it is about 3000 miles off of the Coast of Australia.
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