Another day, another discovery to burst your bubble of being a know it all! While we have been about six continents of the world, with Asia and Europe usually combined into Eurasia, a new study by geologists have revealed that New Zealand and New Caledonia are not part of Australia but actually a seventh geologic continent called Zealandia.
The paper’s authors made this point by saying that the latest discovery of the southwest Pacific continent goes to show that even
“the large and the obvious in natural science can be overlooked”.
11 scientists from institutions in New Zealand, New Caledonia, and Australia have claimed this discovery in the Geological Society of America‘s journal GSA Today. The study states that contrary to the previously held notions about New Caledonia and New Zealand being just islands, both of them are actually part of a certain 1.89 million square mile piece of continental crust that makes up “Zealandia”.
Zealandia was once part of the supercontinent Gondwana, which broke away and sank between 60m and 85m years ago, and now only around five percent it above the ocean’s surface. The area not only encompasses New Zealand and New Caledonia but also Norfolk Island, the Elizabeth and Middleton reefs and the Lord Howe Island group.
A continent is distinguished by geologists using four criteria: number one, elevation above the ocean floor; number two presence of igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks; number three thicker piece of land than the ocean floor forming the crust and number four the limits around the area bigger than a continental fragment or microcontinent.
This is the reason that while Europe and Asia are distinguished differently in terms of economics and culture, geologists combine them into Eurasia considering the aforementioned criteria. And while geologists did previously know that New Zealand and New Caledonia fit the criteria number one through three, the latest study for the first time, used satellite gravity data to establish Zealandia as a continent the size of greater India, satisfying criteria number four.
If the name ‘Zealandia’ rings a bell, this might be the term was first coined by geophysicist Bruce Luyendyk back in 1995, who ironically wasn’t part of the new study. He presented the same hypothesis of the two countries being part the larger landmass Gondwana. Luyendyk revealed that while he didn’t describe a new continent then, but thinks the latest findings will be accepted. He talked to Business Insider,
“These people here are A-list earth scientists. I think they have put together a solid collection of evidence that’s really thorough. I don’t see that there’s going to be a lot of pushback, except maybe around the edges.”
The latest discovery will have many economic implications as well. As Business Insider notes, United Nations agreements revolve around describing continental shelves as boundaries that help resource extraction, and the tens of billions of dollars of minerals and fossil fuels around the shores of New Zealand might get reallocated if the discovery is accepted.
Via Business Insider
Cover Photograph: Chris McLennan / Alamy/Alamy/ The Guardian