In school, we are taught some basic things that never seem to change, like the fact that one plus one equals two, there are five (or is it six?) vowels in the English language, and there are seven continents on Planet Earth.
But the last of those examples is getting a major makeover thanks to a team of 11 researchers who found that Earth has a concealed continent called “Zealandia” that’s hidden in the Pacific Ocean and attached to New Zealand.
The newly published research concluded that New Zealand and New Caledonia are actually part of a huge 4.9 million sq km (1.89 million square-mile) single slab of continental crust that is unhinged from Australia.
Published by the Geological Society of America, the study discovered that the region is 94% submerged, mostly due to crustal thinning before the supercontinental break-up. For their findings, the team used upgraded satellite-based elevation and gravity map technology.
“The scientific value of classifying Zealandia as a continent is much more than just an extra name on a list,” the scientists explained. “That a continent can be so submerged yet unfragmented makes it a useful and thought-provoking geodynamic end member in exploring the cohesion and breakup of continental crust.”
This kind of reminds me of hearing that Pluto was a planet, and then that Pluto wasn’t a planet, and then… it’s hard to keep up. However, the team says Zealandia should be considered a geological continent, which really just makes me question everything we think we know about geology. But really, how human of us to not have all the answers, right?
The researchers said the continent used to be considered a collection of continental islands and fragments.
“Based on various lines of geological and geophysical evidence, particularly those accumulated in the last two decades, we argue that Zealandia is not a collection of partly submerged continental fragments but is a coherent 4.9 Mkm2 continent,” the study said.
So does this mean their are eight continents? Not exactly. According to geologists, Europe and Asia are one giant continent they refer to as “Eurasia,” which means the new addition of Zealandia brings the number of continents to seven — which is the number we’ve become accustomed to.
Geophysicist Bruce Luyendyk coined the name Zealandia back in 1995 to refer to the two islands and other submerged pieces of crust that once separated from Gondwana. Of the new findings, in which he did not take part, he said, “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.”
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The researchers are referring to Zealandia as a “realization” rather than a “discovery,” since New Zealand has been considered a continent by some experts in the field for years.
“This is not a sudden discovery but a gradual realisation; as recently as 10 years ago we would not have had the accumulated data or confidence in interpretation to write this paper,” the study’s authors said. “Zealandia illustrates that the large and the obvious in natural science can be overlooked.”
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