Kids are taught that seven continents exist: Asia, Africa, Australia, Antarctica, Europe, North America, and South America.
Six, if you group Asia and Europe together and call it Eurasia.
But according to a new study, there’s a seventh geologic continent called ‘Zealandia,’ and it’s been hiding in plain sight this whole time.
— geosociety (@geosociety) February 14, 2017
Eleven scientists behind the study say that New Zealand and New Caledonia aren’t just island chains, they’re part of a single slab of continental crust that’s distinct from Australia.
At 4.9 million square kilometres, Zealandia would be Earth’s youngest, smallest and thinnest continent on the planet. It would also be the most submerged.
The new continent is now 94 per cent submerged underwater, although it includes islands like New Zealand and New Caledonia, according to researchers at GNS Science (New Zealand’s geoscience agency).
But the concept of Zealandia isn’t new.
“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,” researchers wrote in GSA Today, a journal of the Geological Society of America.
In fact, Bruce Luyendyk coined Zealandia in 1995 – but it wasn’t meant to be an entirely new continent. The name was used to describe New Zealand, New Caledonia, and a collection of submerged slices of crust that broke off a region of a 200 million-year-old supercontinent called Gondwana.
Speaking to Business Insider, Luyendyk said:
The reason I came up with this term is out of convenience. They’re pieces of the same thing when you look at Gondwana. So I thought, ‘Why do you keep naming this collection of pieces as different things?’
Though he wasn’t part of the research team that worked on the GNC study, he vouched for the abilities of the scientists who did, saying: “These people here are A-list earth scientists.”
But don’t worry – this doesn’t seem to be a Pluto situation. We don’t all have to go back and re-learn science.
But the discovery does proves useful in predicting and examining how the Earth’s continental crust moves.