The time to modify our high-school geography syllabus is here. We were all taught that there are seven continents on the Earth’s surface: Asia, North America, South America, Antarctica, Africa, Europe and, Australia. But a research paper by Geologists from the Virginia University of New Zealand and University of Australia, posted in GSA Today, claims the existence of a new continent called ‘Zelandia’ which comprises of the New Zealand, New Caledonia and their neighbour Islands.
The term ‘Zelandia’ was coined in 1995 by Luyendyk to give a collective name to the Island nations of New Zealand and New Caledonia. Never did he think that this would later be called a continent. Till now, this are was considered broken off parts of Australia and Asia, and thus micro-continents, but eventually over a period of 10 years, research and proper satellite study has provided us with new information about the area. For being a continent, a part of land has to fulfill the following four requirements:
- It should be raised relatively higher than the surrounding ocean floor.
- It should have a thicker, less dense section of crust than the surrounding ocean floor.
- It should have three types of rock formations : Igneous (Spewed by lava), Metamorphic (Altered by heat and pressure) and, Sedimentary (Through erosion).
- It should be large in area with well-defined limits and be comparably larger than microcontinents.
The first three requirements were known to be met by the region since many years, but it was just recently that scientists agreed that it fulfilled the fourth requirement of having a well-defined limit and large enough area to be called a continent. The area of Zelandia is around 4.9 million square kilometres almost as much as the Indian subcontinent. Infact, India itself was considered a continent that broke off from the supercontinent Gondwana, but after it merged with Eurasia ( The joined continent of Europe and Asia), it became a part of Asia.
Zelandia’s 95% area is submerged under ocean, and it is separated from the Australian continent by a distance of 25 kilometres through a part of ocean called the Cato Trough. The division of the continent into two hemispheres by the Australian and the Pacific Tectonic Plates was argued as the reason for its incapability to be called a continent but Luyendyk countered that the existence of Californian fault does not take away the status of continent from North America, and so should not be a problem for Zelandia too.
This study was carried out by top eminent scientists of their fields, and shouldn’t be doubted. The artillery of proofs in favour of Zelandia seems strong, but the report is to go under peer review and only future will tell whether the high school Geography syllabus needs to be modified or not. This discovery might not seem that important at first, but its study and research can help us understand the early plate tectonics and geology of Earth more properly. Let’s see whats in store for Zelandia in the future.
-The Cosmogasmic Person