Zealandia: Probably 8th Continent

Date: February 20, 2017

South Pacific Ocean Australia and Antarctica

A group of geologists believes New Zealand and several surrounding islands, including New Caledonia, should be reclassified as part of an eighth continent called Zealandia, rather than be grouped with Australia in the Australasia region.As the islands are connected by submerged continental crust, which is separate and distinct from Australia and Antarctica, the geologists argue that they should form their own continent — even if 94% of that 1.9 million-square-mile land mass (approximately the area of greater India) is underwater.

Zealandia is a long, narrow microcontinent that is mostly submerged in the South Pacific Ocean.
A microcontinent is a landmass that has broken off from a main continent. Zealandia broke off from Antarctica about 100 million years ago, and then from Australia about 80 million years ago.

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Zealandia is about half the size of Australia, but only 7 percent of it is above sea level. Most of that terrestrial land makes up the two large islands of the country of New Zealand, the North Island and the South Island. Stewart Island, just south of the South Island, and many smaller islets are also a part of Zealandia. New Caledonia, a collection of islands governed by France, makes up the northern tip of Zealandia.

Zealandia generally enjoys a mild, temperate climate. Its largest islands have glaciers, the largest being Tasman Glacier on the South Island. Activity from the last glacial period also carved out many fjords and valleys. The tropical climate of New Caledonia, on the other hand, has more in common with Oceania and the South Pacific.

Volcanic Activity

Zealandia is a very tectonically active region. Part of the microcontinent is on the Australian plate, while the other part is on the Pacific plate.

The northern part of Zealandia is very volcanic. There are six major areas with active volcanoes, the largest being the Taupo Volcanic Zone on the North Island. Geothermal activity caused by the interaction of the Australian and Pacific plates also means there are many natural geysers and hot springs scattered throughout Zealandia.

Both the North and South Islands have volcanic mountain ranges running through their centers. The North Island is dominated by the North Island Volcanic Plateau, while the primary mountain range of the South Island is the Southern Alps. Both mountain ranges are slowly getting higher through a process called tectonic uplift.

Recognition as a Continent

There is no accepted definition of a Continent as well as there is no official body that recognizes new continents, but the scientists believe Zealandia has the same features as the six we are familiar with.

Therefore, the researchers hope that enough of the team of experts should agree to recognize the landmass as a separate continent otherwise it would simply remain a piece of theoretical concept.