Scientists have found that New Zealand is actually part of an own, eighth continent. Zealandia is mostly submerged, but is an intact “4.9 mkm2 region of the southwest Pacific Ocean made up of continental crust”, state the researchers of the Geological Society of America who examined the area. “Its isolation from Australia and large area support its definition as a continent. Zealandia was formerly part of Gondwana. Today it is 94% submerged, mainly as a result of widespread Late Cretaceous crustal thinning preceding supercontinent breakup and consequent isostatic balance. 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.”
This development doesn’t come as a surprise to many New Zealand geoscientists, as GNS Science staff have long been building the case for Zealandia. In fact, it has been the subject of multiple books and presentations.
Nick Mortimer of GNS Science, who was lead author for the paper presenting these facts, said this latest publication was significant in that it described the results of more than 20 years geology and geophysics research in a summary paper that is fully referenced and peer-reviewed. "Being more than 1 million square kilometers in area, and bounded by well-defined geologic and geographic limits, Zealandia is, by our definition, large enough to be termed a continent," he said.
The findings will not change Geography lessons yet, as there is no official way of determining continents, but it will help the scientific community to further understand how tectonic plates move and how continents reshape.
It is of note that this is not the first time that scientists have made continental discoveries. In 2013, a team from Norway found evidence of a microcontinent in the Indian Ocean, “thought to be volcanic chains formed above the Réunion mantle plume over the past 65.5 million years”.