New Continent Found Under New Zealand


Neil Bondoc, Photojournalist

In its recent publication, the Geological Society of America (GSA) has said that although New Zealand is considered as Australia’s smaller neighbour, the country is sitting on a massive new continent called “Zealandia”.

Geologists say that Zealandia is a previously unknown continent that is mostly submerged beneath the South Pacific. They consider Zealandia to be a massive continent as it meets all the criteria applied to the Earth’s seven continents, including elevation above the surrounding area, distinctive geology, and well-defined area. According to researchers, its crust is much thicker than that found in the ocean floor. Bella Wachter states, “ It’s an amazing discovery that the GSA has found.” Zealandia is believed to have broken away from Australia about 80 million years ago and sunk beneath the sea as part of the break-up of the supercontinent Gondwanaland.

The GSA reveals that Zealandia, measured five million square kilometres, is 94% underwater. It means the lost continent is 12 times bigger than Mauritia, six times bigger than Madagascar and about the same area as greater India. It was once part of the Gondwana super-continent, but broke away about 100 million years ago. Zealandia had only three major landmasses – New Zealand’s North and South Islands to the south and New Caledonia to the north. He explained that the Chatham Islands and Subantarctic Islands are part of Zealandia, but Fiji and Tonga aren’t. “It’s also shared with Australia, as well as France, given that New Caledonia is another part of Zealandia,” said the lead author. If we could pull the plug on the world’s oceans, it would be quite clear that Zealandia stands out,” says study coauthor Nick Mortimer. He is a geologist at GNS Science in Dunedin, New Zealand. Zealandia rises about 3,000 meters (9,800 feet) above the surrounding ocean crust, he notes. “If it wasn’t for the ocean level,” he says, “long ago we’d have recognized Zealandia for what it was — a continent.”

Lead author of the paper Dr Nick Mortimer has said that it is not a new discovery and scientists have been gathering data to make the case for Zealandia for more than 20 years. In fact, geophysicist Bruce Luyendyk coined the term ‘Zealandia’ in 1995 as a collective name for New Zealand, the Chatham Rise, Campbell Plateau and Lord Howe Rise. “But their efforts had been frustrated because most of it was hidden beneath the waves,” he stressed.

As there is no scientific body that formally recognises continents, Dr Mortimer urged the international community to accept Zealandia as a part of how the Earth is viewed. “What we hope is that Zealandia will appear on world maps, in schools, everywhere. I think the revelation of a new continent is pretty exciting,” he told the press.