Zealandia: The eighth continent?

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Antarctica, Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, South America… and Zealandia. The world’s continents recently gained a potential new member when a team of researchers found a vast landmass attached to New Zealand

Zealandia was discovered using upgraded satellite-based elevation and gravity map technology and is composed of a vast 1.9 million square-mile single slab of continental crust that is separate from Australia and includes New Zealand and its neighbor New Caldonia.

“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… [and] provides a fresh context in which to investigate processes of continental rifting, thinning, and breakup,” the researchers responsible for the discovery wrote in a paper published in the Geological Society of America’s (GSA) journal. 

Zealandia is believed to have broken away from Gondwana, the immense landmass that once encompassed Australia that sank between 60 and 85 million years ago. The process of discovering the continent has been an ongoing process for years now. Barry Kohn, a professor of earth sciences at the University of Melbourne who previously worked with one of the paper’s publishers, explained that there was a “fair consensus in the scientific community” in favor of its existence, which was further supported by pieces of continental crust dredged up from the area.

However, despite evidence found so far, the landmass’ status as a continent may still have a long way to go until it is confirmed. Nick Mortimer, one of the authoring researchers of the GSA’s paper, explained that Zealandia’s status as a continent was always dependent on an ongoing scientific effort.

“If you want to name a mountain, there are certain procedures you have to go through to get it formally ratified,” Mortimer said. “If Zealandia makes its way into popular culture and onto maps, that’s all the validation that we’ll seek.”

Information for this article was taken from the Huffington Post and the Guardian.

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