All the history and topography books of the past decades that state that the world is only 7 continents counts can go in the trash. Zealandia, the hidden 8th continent of the earth, is after a 375 year quest definitively discovered. The first scientific papers were published in 2016 and 2017 on geosociety.org and in 2021 scientists and geologists around the world seem to agree, there really is an 8th continent. In the coming years, teaching material will have to be adapted and updated worldwide. But as you probably expect, it doesn't stop there, politics will also get involved. Who actually owns this continent and its waters? In this article you can read everything about the 8th continent in the world.
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Table of contents
Zealandia is anything but new
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.
At the time, this part of the world was still largely mysterious to Europeans, but they had an unwavering belief that there must be a large landmass there – preemptively called Terra Australis – to balance their own continent to the north. The fixation dated back to Roman times, but would only now be tested.
And so, on August 14, Tasman departed from his company's base in Jakarta, Indonesia, with two small ships, going west, then south, then east, and finally ended on the South Island of New Zealand† His first encounter with the local Māori people (believed to have settled there several centuries earlier) did not go well: On day two, several paddled a canoe and rammed into a small boat relaying messages between the Dutch ships. Four Europeans died. Later, the Europeans fired a cannon at an additional XNUMX canoes – it is unknown what happened to their targets.
And that was the end of his mission – Tasman named the ill-fated location Moordenaers (Murderers) Bay, with little sense of irony, and sailed home several weeks later without even setting foot on this new land. While he believed that he had indeed discovered the great southern continent, apparently it was not the commercial utopia he had envisioned. He didn't come backsource).
Australia was already known
At that time Australië already known, but the Europeans thought this wasn't the legendary continent was what they were looking for. Tasman didn't know he was right all along. There was a missing continent, but it took 375 years of research to actually understand and prove it.
Why Zealandia was only discovered in the 21st century
It then took a long time before the 8th continent in the world was really discovered and could also be proven. In fact, continental crust is usually about 40 km thick – considerably thicker than oceanic crust, which is usually about 10 km. As the 8th continent was stretched, Zealandia's crust eventually became so thin that the crust now extends only 20 km downwards. Eventually the wafer-thin continent sank and disappeared under the sea.
Study from Geosociety.org
According to the authors of the new study For hundreds of years, geologists have always overlooked an important criterion (is the area large and contiguous enough to have its own 'identity'). There was also simply little interest or motivation to investigate it further, because it is a very expensive study, especially because the research had to be carried out mainly on the bottom of a sea kilometer deep.
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea
In the end, it “UN Convention on the Law of the Sea” for serious motivation to search further. Namely, it states that countries can extend their legal territory beyond their Exclusive Economic Zone, which extends 200 nautical miles (370 km) from their coastlines, to claim their “extensive continental shelf” – with all the mineral resources and oil it includes.
Funded by New Zealand
Suddenly there was an abundance of funding to research the area. In 2017, a team funded by New Zealand research and drilled more than 1.250 meters into the seabed at six different locations. The evidence gradually piled up. With each rock sample collected, the case for Zealandia improved. The cores they collected contained pollen from land plants and spores from the shells of organisms that lived in warm, shallow seas.
Despite the continent being largely submerged, geologists now know that Zealandia is a continent because of the aforementioned findings, as well as the types of rocks found there. Continental crust is mostly made up of igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks — such as granite, shale, and limestone, while the ocean floor is mostly made up of igneous rocks only, such as basalt.
The final double confirmation came from satellite data, which can be used to track small variations in Earth's gravity across different parts of the crust to map the seafloor. With this technology, Zealandia is clearly visible as a deformed mass almost as large as Australië.
Using recent and detailed satellite data from elevations and depressions of the ancient seabed, the new study demonstrates that Zealandia is indeed a whole.
When the continent was finally unveiled to the world, it opened up one of the most extensive maritime areas in the world. In addition to New Zealand, the continent includes the island of New Caledonia – a French colony known for its beautiful lagoons.
Zealandia was part of Gondwana
But where did Zeelandia originally come from? Zealandia was probably originally part of the ancient supercontinent Gondwana, which formed about 550 million years ago and essentially lumped all of the land in the Southern Hemisphere into one. It occupied a corner on the eastern side where it bordered several others, including half of West Antarctica and all of Eastern Australia. About 105 million years ago, Zealandia began to retreat. Zealandia became its own continent.
Economic interests for New Zealand
We are not there yet with only discovering and confirming the 8th continent. Now that researchers can prove that it is actually a continent, it's up to politicians. In various UN treaties like UN Convention on the Law of the Sea that is because continental criteria are used with which pieces of sea – and the mineral resources located beneath them – are allocated to countries. In theory, New Zealand can now lay claim to a wealth of fossil fuels and minerals off its coasts. And the same would France after all, New Caledonia is a French overseas territory.
So the last word about the 8th continent of the world is far from being spoken.
Also read: Worldly | How many continents are there? 5, 6, 7 or 8?
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