WASHINGTON — The seven continents we know and love may have another sibling in the South Pacific.
A new article in the Geological Society of America journal GSA Today asserts that New Zealand, New Caledonia and other islands in the region could be considered part of a 1.9 million-square-mile land mass that is 94 percent underwater.
“This mostly underwater continent is geologically separate and distinct from Australia and Antarctica, and as highlighted by [author Nick] Mortimer and colleagues, should be treated as such,” the GSA reports.
Previously, New Zealand and New Caledonia had been grouped with the Australian continent as part of a region called “Australasia.”
But in the last few years, scientists have been drifting toward classifying the islands as part of a continent. In 1995, a University of California, Santa Barbara geophysicist coined the term “Zealandia.”
“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,” Mortimer and other researchers wrote in the new article.
In reaching the conclusion, the article’s authors cite that the land mass meets several key criteria in terms of elevation, geology, area and crustal structure.
Mortimer told The Guardian that a 2002 bathymetric (i.e., underwater topography) map pointed him and other researchers toward the new conclusion.
“From that point, that map was literally our road map for some crosses, just trying to get rocks out of all the four corners of Zealandia that we could, so we could prove up the geology,” Mortimer told The Guardian.
And while the article is the first peer-reviewed paper to define Zealandia, Mortimer told The Guardian that other New Zealand geoscientists “probably wonder what all the fuss is about.”
Zealandia, the article’s authors write, was formerly part of Gondwana, the supercontinent that predates the supercontinent Pangea.
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