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Worldly | How many continents are there? 5, 6, 7 or 8?

The world has 7 continents. That's the short answer. However, not everyone agrees on this. In this article we explain what exactly a continent is and why there is so much disagreement about the number of continents that our world has. We also have a handy list at the bottom of this page with all 'accepted' continents in order from largest to smallest.

More Worldly Articles:

What is a continent?

The word continent is used to distinguish between several major land areas. They are continents of the Earth into which the entire land surface of the planet is divided. All of the Earth's continents together make up about a third of the planet's total surface. The fact is that more than two thirds of the earth's surface is covered with water. Earth's landmasses are unevenly distributed, with two-thirds of the continental landmass being located in the Northern Hemisphere (the upper half of the world, north of the equator). If you're wondering why that is, it's just a feature of our current point in the geological time.Several million years ago, most of the planet's landmass was located in the Southern Hemisphere.

Continents
Continents

How and when did continents form?

The 7 continents that we know so well today were completely different in the past. Due to the shifting of tectonic plates (something that is still going on today), several continents have broken up or reunited. A beautiful and clearly visible example of this process is the country of India. India was still part of the African continent millions of years ago. Today, India still slams into the Asian continent. The highest mountain range in the world – the Himalayas – still grows by a few centimeters per year because of this. This mountain range is also called the roof of the world.

Do you want to know what the 7 continents used to look like? And what will they look like in the future? Then watch the short video below. In just over 1 minute, the video shows how the different continents / landmasses and tectonic plates move through history and future.

Is Oceania a Continent?

By definition of a continent as a large contiguous tract of land, the islands in the South Pacific Oceania are not actually a continent. However, due to their geographical location, you could say that they belong to the same continent. For that reason, Oceania is associated with the continent of Australia.

The continent of Oceania
The continent of Oceania

5, XNUMX, XNUMX or XNUMX continents?

In Europe at the beginning of the last century, schools were taught for decades that there are five continents and/or landmasses. This is even reflected in the five rings of the Olympic Games! Each ring represents one continent. For roughly 100 years, these 5 continents were seen as the 5 continents that made up the world:

  • Africa
  • America
  • Asia
  • Australië
  • Europe
The rings were designed in 1912 by Pierre de Coubertin, the "father" of the modern Olympic Games.
The 5 rings of the Olympic Games.

This changed in the 60s, from that moment on a 6th continent was added and not much later it even became 7 continents. More about that below.

6, XNUMX, XNUMX or XNUMX continents?

There is simply no standard definition for the number of continents or continents. So whatever your teacher or internet page tells you, any answer will leave the door open for discussion. In Europe for example, many students are still taught that there are just six continents. North- and South-America are combined into one America as one continent. These six continents are then:

  • Africa
  • America
  • Antarctica
  • Asia
  • Australia / Oceania
  • Europe

The word 'continent' comes from the Latin 'continere' which means 'to keep together', terra continens, the 'contiguous land'.

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Due to the literal meaning of the word 'continere', there are still many geographers and scientists who refer to six continents in a different composition. This is because Europe and Asia are combined (because they are one solid land mass). These six continents are then:

  • Africa
  • Antarctica
  • Australia / Oceania
  • Eurasia
  • North America
  • South America

7, XNUMX, XNUMX or XNUMX continents?

The the most common list, the list of 7 continents. By most standards worldwide, today there are up to seven continents. These 7 continents are seen as the truth in most places in the world. It was what most teachers in the world believe is true.

  • Africa
  • Antarctica
  • Asia
  • Australia / Oceania
  • Europe
  • North America
  • South America

Obviously the world of continents has been a rather tumultuous one. What exactly is a continent? If the definition of a continent is not completely clear, how can we decide exactly how many continents there are in the world? It will probably lead to more discussions in the future. Until then we use 7 continents as being the truth.

8, XNUMX, XNUMX or XNUMX continents?

Update August 12, 2022: All history and topography books from the past decades can go in the trash. Zealandia, the hidden continent of the earth was discovered after a 375 year search.Zealandia is now the 8th continent in this world! The first scientific papers were published in 2016 and 2017 on geosociety.org and in 2022 scientists and geologists all over the world seem to agree, there really is an 8th continent and teaching materials will have to be adapted and updated globally.

Source: geosociety.org

The concept of Zeelandia is anything but new. It was 1642 when Abel Tasman was on a mission. The experienced Dutch sailor, with a flamboyant mustache, bushy goatee and a taste for crude justice, was convinced of the existence of a vast continent in the southern hemisphere and was determined to find it.

It's quite a story to which we devoted a separate article. Do you want to know more about the 8th continent of the world? Read the detailed article via the link below.

Also read: Worldly | Zealandia is the 8th continent of this world. Here's the proof.

7 continents from largest to smallest

Asia

Asia is with 44.579.000 km2 the largest continent in the world. In total there are 51 recognized countries in the Asian continent. It is also the most populous continent. 60% of the Earth's total population lives here.

Africa

Africa comes with 30.370.000 km2 at number two. The African continent has 54 countries. It is the hottest continent and home to the world's largest desert, the Sahara, which covers 25% of the total area of ​​Africa.

Also read: 24 Must Sees in Africa | The most beautiful places for your bucket list

North America

North America is the number 3 on the list of largest continents in the world with respectively 24.709.000 km2. The continent has 23 countries, led by the US as the largest economy in the world.

South America

South America covers a total of 17.840.000 km2. The continent includes 12 countries. Here you will find the world's largest forest, the Amazon rainforest, which covers 30% of the total surface of the continent of South America.

Also read: 20 Must Sees in South America | Food for your Bucket List

Antarctica

Antarctica follows with 14.000.000 km2. It is the coldest continent in the world, still completely covered in ice. There are no permanent residents on this continent, except for scientists who maintain research stations in Antarctica.

Europe

Europe is a busy continent in terms of land borders. It includes 51 countries on 'only' 10.180.000 km2. It is the most economically developed continent with the European Union as the largest economic and political union in the world.

Australia & Oceania

Australia & Oceania is in area with 8.600.000 km2 the smallest of the 7 continents. The continent holds 14 countries and is the most sparsely populated continent after Antarctica. Only 0,2% of the total population on Earth lives here.

Information about the world

Are you ready to travel the world but do you also want to learn about our fantastic globe? Then read this page for more worldly information: Worldly | Information about the world. It's the perfect starting point!

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