Zealandia’s long-lost continent shown on stunning new maps

Her third grade geography class no doubt told her that there are seven continents on our planet: Africa, Asia, Antarctica, Australia / Oceania, Europe, North America, and South America. – but many geologists argue that the submerged continent of Zealandia should also be considered part of this gang.

Thanks to a new project, now you can feast your eyes in a set of impressive maps detailing this long-lost continent. The continent of Zealandia, also known as Te Riu-a-Māui, is a 5 million square kilometer (2 million square mile) continent located in the Southwest Pacific. In addition to the landmasses of New Zealand, New Caledonia, and some Pacific islands, up to 94 percent of the “eighth continent” is currently under the waters off the east coast of Australia. In 2017, geologists from New Zealand, New Caledonia and Australia concluded that Zealandia meets all the necessary requirements to defined as a continent, not just a microcontinent or continental fragment.

Geologists from the New Zealand research group GNS Science have released a bunch of impressive maps showing the bathymetry (shape of the ocean floor) and the tectonic origins of Earth’s eighth continent. You can access the new maps and dashboards here.

“Users can zoom and scroll through different thematic geoscience web maps of the region. They can easily view and interrogate maps and turn layers on or off. They can also check features in the layers and generate their own custom maps, “Vaughan Stagpoole, program leader, said in a statement.

The tectonic map of Te Riu-a-Māui / Zealanda. The continental crust is shown in shades of red, orange, yellow and brown and the oceanic crust in blue. The arch bark of the island is pink and the bark of the large igneous province is green. GNS Science

“We have made these maps to provide an accurate, complete and up-to-date image of the geology of the New Zealand and Southwest Pacific area, better than before,” added Dr. Nick Mortime, a geologist at GNS Science.

“Their value is that they provide a new context in which to explain and understand the configuration of New Zealand’s volcanoes, plate boundaries, and sedimentary basins,” he continued.

Zealandia came into force between 79 and 83 million years ago, when it separated from Gondwanaland, an ancient supercontinent that existed until the Jurassic era (about 180 million years ago). The remains of Gondwana make up about two thirds of the current continental area, including South America, Africa, Antarctica, Australia, the Indian subcontinent, Arabia, and, last but not least, Zealand. Zealandia had some colossal elevation changes between 50 and 35 million years ago, then sank to become the landmasses and submerged continent that we see today.

While several projects have tried to better understand Zealandia in recent years, there is still much to learn about this largely hidden continent.

GNS Science