Your third-grade geography class no doubt told you there are seven continents on our planet – Africa, Asia, Antarctica, Australia/Oceania, Europe, North America, and South America – but many geologists contend that the submerged continent of Zealandia should also be considered part of this gang.
Thanks to a new project, you can now feast your eyes on a set of stunning maps detailing this long-lost continent. The Zealandia continent, also known as Te Riu-a-Māui, is a 5-million-square-kilometer (2-million-square-mile) continent found in the southwest Pacific. Aside from the landmasses of New Zealand, New Caledonia, and a few Pacific islands, up to 94 percent of “the eighth continent” is currently below the waters off the east coast of Australia. In 2017, geologists from New Zealand, New Caledonia, and Australia concluded that Zealandia ticks all the necessary boxes to be defined as a continent, not just a microcontinent or continental fragment.
Geologists from New Zealand research group GNS Science have released a bunch of stunning maps showing the bathymetry (shape of the ocean floor) and the tectonic origins of Earth’s eighth continent. You can access the new maps and dashboards right here.
“Users can zoom and pan around different thematic geoscience webmaps of the region. They can readily view and interrogate the maps and turn layers on or off. They can also query features in the layers and generate custom maps of their own,” Vaughan Stagpoole, program leader, explained in a statement.
“We’ve made these maps to provide an accurate, complete and up-to-date picture of the geology of the New Zealand and southwest Pacific area – better than we have had before,” added Dr Nick Mortime, a geologist at GNS Science.
“Their value is that they provide a fresh context in which to explain and understand the setting of New Zealand’s volcanoes, plate boundary, and sedimentary basins,” he continued.
Zealandia came into being between 79 and 83 million years ago when it broke away from Gondwanaland, an ancient supercontinent that existed until the Jurassic era (about 180 million years ago). The remnants of Gondwana make up about two-thirds of today's continental area, including South America, Africa, Antarctica, Australia, the Indian subcontinent, Arabia, and – last but not least – Zealandia. Zealandia had some colossal elevation changes between 50 and 35 million years ago, then sank to became the landmasses and submerged continent we see today.
While a number of projects have sought to better understand Zealandia in recent years, there is still much to learn about this largely hidden continent.