Zealandia: Is there an eighth continent under New Zealand?

New Zealand from above
BBC NEWS / Tim Peake                            

Everybody knows that there are seven continents. We learn this fact as children and it never, ever changes because let’s face it, why would it? But hold onto your hats, people, ’cause a group of scientists are pushing to see Zealandia, a giant underwater land mass, recognised as the eighth continent.

Zealandia, is huge and green, and almost submerged in the southwest Pacific.

Researchers explain that Zealandia is about 5 million sq km, or about two thirds of the area of Australia. Roughly 94% of it is underwater, with only a few islands and three major landmasses visible above the ocean. These three landmasses are New Zealand’s North & South Islands, and New Caledonia.

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Scientists who believe that Zealandia qualifies as a continent have now made a push for it to be recognized as such. This view is challenging what many believe to be one of the defining characteristics of a “continent”, and that is that it must exist above water. Researchers however have looked at a different set of criteria, such as whether it contains unique geology, and how well-characterized the area is.

New Zealand map

The researchers explained that the scientific value of classifying Zealandia as a continent was more than just an extra name on a list. But the question remains:  how does one get Zealandia into the norm of continents? Will everything have to be changed in the textbooks?

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You may remember that similar happened with Pluto, which was omitted from the list of our solar system’s planets when it was reclassified as a “dwarf planet” in 2006. This totally changed what kids were taught at school for eleven years. Pluto is reportedly back on track to regain planetary status again now that scientists at NASA are proposing a new definition for the word “planet”.

And this is how it works. There is no one scientific body that holds responsibility for recognizing what is a continent vs. what is an island.  However if the Zealandia movement leads to a change of definition, then it’s likely that one day Zealandia will officially become Planet Earth’s eighth continent.