What Happened to Zealandia?

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Zealandia, also known as the eighth continent, is an underwater landmass in the Pacific Ocean. It is believed to have once been part of the supercontinent Gondwana. Zealandia consists of New Zealand and New Caledonia, as well as submerged regions. Over millions of years, geological processes caused Zealandia to sink beneath the ocean’s surface. Today, only about 6% of Zealandia remains above water. Despite being largely submerged, Zealandia is still considered a continent due to its distinct geology and tectonic activity. Its study provides valuable insights into the Earth’s geological history and plate tectonics.

Can you identify all the continents of the world? Perhaps you learned them in school or even sang a song about their names. Can you assist us in naming them all? We have North America, South America, and Africa. We are aware of Asia, Australia, and Europe. What is the final one? Oh yes—Antarctica!

However, it is possible that a continent is missing from that list. Or, at least, some experts believe so. That’s correct, Earth could have an eighth continent. Don’t believe us? Just keep reading! Today, we will be discussing the underwater continent Zealandia.

Are you curious about how a continent can be underwater? You are not alone! After all, all the other continents are located on dry land. Geologists have several reasons to classify Zealandia as a continent. One reason is its elevation. It is significantly above the ocean floor. In fact, it is only about two-thirds of a mile below the surface. To compare, the deepest part of the ocean is nearly seven miles deep.

Zealandia’s geology is also similar to that of continents. This means that the rocks and minerals found there are quite similar to those on land. Experts have also studied the crust beneath Zealandia and claim that it closely resembles the crust of continents, rather than the crust beneath the ocean floor.

And of course, Zealandia was not always underwater. Long ago, it was part of Pangaea. This changed when it separated from Antarctica and then Australia. This occurred approximately 80 to 100 million years ago, resulting in about 94 percent of Zealandia being submerged. Later on, Zealandia sank even further due to activity from the Pacific Ring of Fire.

Today, only a small portion of Zealandia is above sea level, which includes the islands of New Zealand and New Caledonia. The underwater portion is approximately two-thirds of a mile below the surface. In total, Zealandia spans about 1.9 million square miles, roughly the size of the Indian subcontinent.

In addition, experts do not consider Zealandia to be part of Australia, as they are situated on different tectonic plates. This is another reason why Zealandia is considered its own continent.

Furthermore, experts believe that plants and animals once used Zealandia as a pathway to cross the Pacific. The team that explored Zealandia discovered fossils from hundreds of species, many of which are known to inhabit shallow waters near Australia and New Zealand. This led experts to speculate that numerous species likely migrated across Zealandia when it was submerged in shallow water.

Will Zealandia eventually be recognized as the Earth’s eighth continent? Perhaps. Until then, scientists have much more to discover about it. Would you be interested in exploring the waters of Zealandia? Who knows what you might find there? There could be countless surprises waiting to be uncovered!

Give It a Try

Find a friend or family member who can assist you with one or more of the following activities.

Exploring Zealandia

  • Convince someone to consider Zealandia as a continent by writing them a letter or email. Make sure to provide reasons and evidence to support your opinion.
  • Watch a video about the movement of continents and summarize the information for a friend or family member.
  • Take a look at a list of animals that live in Zealandia today. Choose one animal and create a list of questions about it. Ask a friend or family member to help you find answers online.

Wonder Sources

  • https://www.geosociety.org/gsatoday/archive/27/3/article/GSATG321A.1.htm (accessed 09 Oct. 2019)
  • https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/zealandia/ (accessed 09 Oct. 2019)
  • https://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=243192&org=NSF&from=news (accessed 09 Oct. 2019)
  • https://mymodernmet.com/zealandia-hidden-continent/ (accessed 09 Oct. 2019)
  • https://www.forbes.com/sites/bridaineparnell/2017/09/28/animals-used-lost-continent-of-zealandia-to-spread-across-the-pacific/#74e5f707f499 (accessed 09 Oct. 2019)

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