Here are some astounding details regarding the enigmatic Zealandia, the eighth continent on Earth that is submerged beneath the Pacific.
All About The Zealandia:
Learn about its location, age, mapping, geological riddle, and the effort to decipher its illustrious past.
Zealandia, the eighth continent of our planet, is a hidden gem in the vastness of the Pacific Ocean.
While the majority of continents proudly show off their peaks and valleys above the ocean, Zealandia is still a mysterious underwater world that has yet to be discovered and fully comprehended.
Here are some amazing details about this submerged continent that explore the most recent research and shed light on its mysterious past:
1. THE FOUNDATION OF A HIDDEN GEM AND ITS NAMING
The voyage of Dutch sailor Abel Tasman in 1642 provided the first indication of the existence of the eighth continent in the Southern Hemisphere.
The term “Zealandia” was first used to refer to New Zealand, the Chatham Rise, Campbell Plateau, and Lord Howe Rise in 1995 by American geophysicist Bruce Luyendyk.
As opposed to being categorized as a microcontinent or continental fragment, Zealandia was found to meet all the requirements for categorization as a submerged continent in 2017, according to a group of eleven geologists from New Zealand, New Caledonia, and Australia.
2. AGE OF ZEALANDIA
Scientists believe that Zealandia was formerly a component of the 550 million year old supercontinent Gondwana.
However, a study from 2021 claims that the eighth continent is actually twice as old as previously thought, at about one billion years.
Zealandia is a young continent that split from Australia and Antarctica between 60 and 85 million years ago and from Antarctica between 85 and 120 million years ago.
Gondwana’s disintegration was produced by geological causes over a lengthy period of time, but it started around 180–200 million years ago, during the Jurassic period. For tens of millions of years, this process persisted, resulting in the slow drifting apart of separate landmasses to create the continents we see today.
As a result, the supercontinent broke up, creating the continents of Asia, Africa, Europe, South and North America, Australia, and Antarctica. Zealandia was also formed, a mainly submerged landmass with decreasing crust.
Despite being the youngest, the eighth continent continues to be a living example of how Earth’s landscapes are constantly evolving.
3. A RARELY LARGE UNDERWATER CONTINENT
Zealandia dwarfs several other landmasses, with a massive expanse of about 4.9 million square kilometers.
Recent satellite images demonstrate the eighth continent’s enormous size, which is practically on par with Australia.
It’s bigger than the entire Indian subcontinent, to put it in context!
Amazingly, only New Zealand, New Caledonia, and lesser peaks remain on this continent because it is 94% submerged beneath the waves of the southwest Pacific Ocean.
4. Mapping Zealand: A First in the World
Recent discoveries have shed light on the eighth continent in previously unthinkable ways.
The creation of a thorough map of Zealandia has been achieved after more than 20 years of arduous labour by a committed team of researchers, lead by GNS Science geologist Nick Mortimer.
The researchers resolved the geological gaps in the northeastern portion of the maps in their most recent article, which was published in the peer-reviewed journal “Tectonics” on September 12, 2023, essentially completing the mystery.
A thorough map of Zealandia, also known as Te Riu-a-Maui, was released in the magazine on September 26, 2023, giving readers a more accurate portrayal of this fascinating continent.
The recently updated map not only shows the eighth continent’s magmatic arc axis, but also several other noteworthy geological features.
It reveals the mystifying past of this submerged continent and offers hitherto unobtainable insights.
5. The geographical conundrum
Geologists take into account more factors than only size and location when classifying Zealandia as a continent. The geological richness of Zealandia rivals that of other continents, and it has a distinct continental crust that separates it from the ocean floor.
A feature largely unknown to other continents has been revealed by recent mapping efforts, including plateaus, ridges, and the boundary where the continent meets the ocean.
The eighth continent resembles Antarctica in many ways, since they both share a long-forgotten past that is submerged beneath the sea.
Zealandia is a continent in its own right, despite having a sizable chunk submerged under water, due to its unique geological features.
6. ZEALANDIA’S DRAMATIC SHAPE
Zealandia underwent tremendous changes over millions of years. It was formerly a part of a bigger continent, but as tectonic forces tore it apart, it began to sink beneath the surface of the water.
The eighth continent assumed its present-day submerged status after this process persisted for around 25 million years.
Its distinctive terrain was shaped by crustal uplift, which produced mountains and islands. Amazingly, during this turbulent history, Zealandia’s New Zealand managed to remain somewhat above water.
7. DISCOVERING THE PAST AND THE FUTURE
The creation of the map of Zealandia represents a remarkable achievement, even if many concerns about the continent’s geological past and its part in Gondwana’s disintegration remain unsolved.
Our understanding of Earth’s dynamic history will be improved by the information acquired, which will also provide light on the evolution of the planet’s flora and fauna, including extinct penguin species that previously roamed the eighth continent that is now submerged.