Zealandia: The Continent You Didn’t Know Existed

A paper published by geologists from New Zealand, New Caledonia and Australia in the journal of Geological Society of America (GSA) contends that New Zealand is sitting on a massive piece of land which can very well be a new continent.

The paper was written by geologists from New Zealand’s GNS Science Research Institute and Victoria University of Wellington, School of Geosciences (University of Sydney) and Service Geologique of New Caledonia.

The 4.9 million square kilometre of area that this new continent measure is claimed to be as big as the greater India (4.6 Mkm²).

The term Zealandia was first coined by American Geologist Bruce Luyendyk in 1995, but no extensive research was conducted at that point of time.

The co-authors also point out that there was no dedicated project towards Zealandia, but the research was done over a period of time, specifically since Bathymetric mapping was released in 2002, to establish a ‘scientific case for the continent of Zealandia’.

“In this paper, we summarise and reassess a variety of geoscience data sets and show that a substantial part of the south-west Pacific Ocean consists of a continuous expanse of continental crust… (which is) large and separate enough to be considered an actual continent,” the co-authors wrote.

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For the past 20 years, geologists have intermittently argued that Zealandia should be given its identity as an independent continent, which was submerged around 60 to 85 million years ago.

A week ago, scientists had found a similar piece of large continental crust underlying Mauritius and dubbed it as Mauritia.

Geologists in the new paper published at GSA Today affirm that Zealandia is 12 times the size of Mauritia and six times that of Madagascar.

The research took parameters such as elevation, geology, crustal structure and area of the continent to assess Zealandia’s continent-like attributes and, also shows that New Zealand and Australia sit on top of separate continental plates.

“Zealandia provides a fresh context in which to investigate processes of continental rifting, thinning and breakup,” they added.

According to the researchers, 94% of Zealandia is currently submerged and the continental crust doesn’t only encompass New Zealand but also New Caledonia, Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island, which are regarded as part of the Australian continent.

Given that a majority of Zealandia is inaccessible, it’s a long shot that it will be recognised as a separate eighth — or seventh, considering that at times Europe and Asia are referred as Eurasia as they share the same landmass — continent on Earth.

Prayank

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