Scientists coin the eighth continent of the world: Zealandia

Lucy Jarach, Contributing Writer

This past year was a time of many promising scientific discoveries.  One of these breakthroughs was the declaration of a newly discovered continent known to scientists as Zealandia.  This land was found in the southwest Pacific under New Zealand.  According to geologists, it was recently declared that Zealandia meets all the important criteria to be recognized as the eighth continent on Earth.  The landmass is 94 percent underwater, which is why it has not been found until recently.  It is unclear if this new discovery will be taught in schools or put in future textbooks; however, it is formally recognized by geologists as a real, drowned continent.
Zealandia is also known as the New Zealand continent or Tasmantis.  The concept of this new continent, as well as the name for it, was originally thought of by American geophysicist Bruce Luyendyk in 1995.  Extensive research took place for many years after this proposal.  However, it was not until 2017 that a group of eleven geologists from New Zealand and Australia concluded that Zealandia is legitimate and an official continent that is drowned, as opposed to continental.
Scientific research has shown that 60-85 million years ago, the New Zealand continent was connected to Australia until it broke off and sank.  It was 100 percent submerged around 23 million years ago, while today it is around 93 or 94 percent submerged under the Pacific Ocean.  Zealandia is a large continent having an area of nearly 4,920,000 km2 (1,900,000 sq mi).  Due to this land being greater than one million km2, it is, by definition, large enough to qualify as a continent.  Similar to Greenland being a part of North America, Zealandia is made up of other lands including New Zealand, New Caledonia, Norfolk Island, the Lord Howe Island group and the Elizabeth and Middleton Reefs which are all connected by submerged continental crust.  With this being said, the current human population is somewhere around five million people, and it covers about the same amount of area as India.
Zealandia currently supports many inshore fisheries, while also containing gas fields, the largest known being New Zealand’s Maui gas field.  In 2007, permits for oil exploration in the Great South Basin were issued.  Iron sands and volcanic sulfides are some of the offshore mineral resources from this land.  Recently, researchers discovered new fossils and tectonic plate movements during their two-month expedition.   What has also been revealed is the fact that Zealandia was most likely much closer to land level than scientists believed, which could mean it gave pathways for animals and plants to cross continents.
“The discovery of microscopic shells of organisms that lived in warm shallow seas, and spores and pollen from land plants, reveal that the geography and climate of Zealandia was dramatically different in the past,” said Professor Gerald Dickens of Rice University in an interview with Forbes.
In addition, Ball’s Pyramid near Lord Howe Island, is one of the rare places where Zealandia rises above sea level.
According to The Geological Society of America, Zealandia, made up of New Zealand and other surrounding islands, will officially be recognized as the world’s eighth continent.  Since it is fairly new, scientists say making it widely recognized will come with time, and it is unclear if it will be officially taught as the eighth continent due to the fact that 94 percent of it is underwater.