‘The Lost Continent’ not lost at all

This picture shows the elevations of the continent and its surroundings.

ScienceNews graphic

This picture shows the elevations of the continent and its surroundings.

One thing you learn early in school is that there are seven continents. Teachers ingrain this into your brain so it will stick. This seems as though it will never change because who would think that geographers could miss a piece of land that is as big as a continent? Well, that is just what happened.

It is called Zealandia and is located under and surrounding New Zealand. Ninety-four percent of Zealandia is underwater; however, there are a few islands surrounding New Zealand that stick out of the water. The proposed continent is 1.9 million square miles, about two-thirds of the size of neighboring Australia.

Even if you have never heard about this proposed eighth continent, it is nothing new. In fact, researchers have been trying to get Zealandia recognized for decades. Recently, there has been a big push for Zealandia to get recognition.

Up until Zealandia was officially named in 1995, New Zealand, New Caledonia and Australia were mentioned together under the label of “Australasia.” Most researchers believed that the islands in this area were simply their own continental fragments, however, that is not the case. Australia and New Zealand have their own continental crusts.

You may ask, “How can it be considered a continent when 94 percent is underwater?” Well, being above sea level is not a requirement that must be met to be considered a continent. To be considered a continent, the mass of land must have an elevation above the surrounding area, distinctive geology, a well-defined area and a crust thicker than the regular ocean floor. All of these requirements are present.

Even though there is no official world organization that names continents and decides what constitutes a continent and what doesn’t, Zealandia is on its way to being recognized as its own continent.