A new study by the Geological Society of America is pushing for the recognition of a new continent submerged in the southwest Pacific ocean called Zealandia.
A paper published on Friday in the journal of the Geological Society of America argues that the vast, continuous expanse of continental crust, which measures five million sq km (1.9m sq miles) and is about two-thirds of neighboring Australia centering on New Zealand, is distinct enough to constitute a separate continent.
The area, about the same size as the Indian subcontinent, is believed to have broken away from Gondwana – the landmass that once encompassed Australia – and sank between 60 and 85 million years ago.
The paper’s abstract says:
“The identification of Zealandia as a geological continent, rather than a collection of continental islands, fragments, and slices, more correctly represents the geology of this part of Earth. Zealandia provides a fresh context in which to investigate processes of continental rifting, thinning, and breakup.”
It says that even though about 94% of that area is underwater with only a few islands and three major landmasses sticking out, it still qualifies as a continent due to the following properties.
- Elevation above the surrounding area
- Distinctive geology
- A well-defined area
- A crust thicker than the regular ocean floor
The three major land masses sticking out on the proposed Zealandia continent are New Zealand’s North and South Islands and New Caledonia.
“The scientific value of classifying Zealandia as a continent is much more than just an extra name on a list,” said the main author of the article, New Zealand geologist Nick Mortimer.
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He revealed that scientists have been researching data on Zealandia as a continent for the past 20 years.
Zealandia doesn’t need an official approval from any organization to be officially designated as a continent. It only needs to be considered a continent among the research community thereby being referenced to in future publications.