NEW ZEALAND: The Lost Continent

NEW ZEALAND: The Lost Continent

New Zealand sits atop a previously unknown continent — mostly submerged beneath the South Pacific — that should be recognized with the name Zealandia, scientists said in February 2017.

Researchers said Zealandia is a distinct geological entity and meets all the criteria applied to Earth’s seven other continents — elevation above the surrounding area, distinctive geology, a well-defined area and a crust much thicker than that found on the ocean floor.

In a paper published in the Geological Society of America’s journal, GSA Today, researchers said Zealandia measures 5 million square kilometers and is 94 percent under water. The paper’s authors said it has three major landmasses: New Zealand’s North and South Islands to the south and New Caledonia to the north.

The scientists, mostly from the official New Zealand research body GNS Science, said Zealandia was once part of the Gondwana supercontinent but broke away about 100 million years ago. “The scientific value of classifying Zealandia as a continent is much more than just an extra name on a list,” they wrote. “That a continent can be so submerged yet unfragmented makes it [useful] … in exploring the cohesion and breakup of continental crust.”

Lead author Nick Mortimer said scientists have been gathering data to make the case for Zealandia for more than 20 years. Their efforts were frustrated, however, because most of Zealandia is beneath the waves. “If we could pull the plug on the oceans, it would be clear to everybody that we have mountain chains and a big, high-standing continent,” he said.  Agence France-Presse