Hail, Zealandia! It’s not the lost city of Atlantis, but scientists say they’re convinced they have discovered the planet’s eighth continent sprawling underwater beneath New Zealand.
Australia and adjacent New Zealand have always been considered the continent of Australia. But now, researchers have found that New Zealand rests on a separate 1.8 million-square-mile continental crust, rather than oceanic crust.
The continent, dubbed Zealandia, also includes New Caledonia and other islands and territories in that section of the southwest Pacific Ocean, according to a paper published this week by the Geological Society of America. It’s about two-thirds the size of the country of Australia, and 94 percent is underwater.
“Its isolation from Australia and large area support its definition as a continent—Zealandia,” wrote researchers from universities in Caledonia, Australia and New Zealand.
“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 authors wrote.
Scientists have postulated for more than a decade that New Zealand and outlying islands comprise a separate continent, or microcontinent. But information demonstrating that Zealandia is a distinctly separate and contiguous mass merits its elevation to the status of continent, they’ve concluded.
Researchers say Zealandia is part of an enormous ancient super-continent — Gondwana or Gondwanaland — that once included Australia and much of the remaining Southern Hemisphere. Gondwana broke apart some 180 million years ago, with some pieces eventually sinking.
Scientists from South Africa this month announced the discovery of what they believe is yet another continent — which they dubbed Maurita —beneath the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. That continent, too, is believed to be a section of Gondwana.
If Zealandia is formally recognized as a continent, it would be the smallest among Europe, Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Antarctica and Australia.