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Pub Science: Discovering New Zealandia

Discovering New Zealandia

Places of the world that start with Z include: Zambia, Zimbabwe, Zanzibar, Zürich, Zealandia… You read right, Zealandia is a real place. In fact, it’s the world’s newest and smallest continent. As you probably guessed, it sits under the gigantic land mass known as New Zealand, but also New Caledonia and other surrounding islands.

Even though this new continent is tiny in area compared to Australia, has a somewhat bizarre shape (just look at it), and is awkwardly sprawled over the Pacific and Australian tectonic plates, it has been recognised as an actual continent by the Geological Society of America. Just last week a paper was published outlining the grounds upon which Zealandia qualified as a continent instead of a microcontinent or fragment continent (these also exist). In this qualification there are four criteria used to distinguish real continents from fragments:

  1. Substantial elevation above the surrounding area (despite Zealandia still being 94% underwater)

  2. Having distinctive geology that distinguish it from the ocean’s crust (containing igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary rocks)

  3. A well-defined area (though I beg to differ)

  4. Having a thicker crust than the regular ocean floor (kind of like a stuffed-crust pizza, yum!)

So there you go, another continent to add to that list of seven you’ve known since primary school (though even this number is debatable). Or maybe you still don’t know your continents. It probably won’t change how or where you live- unless you’re a New Zealander. But hey, regardless, it’s still a pretty cool discovery.

By Joanna Ng

Header Image: Shellie

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