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

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.

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.

According to Dr Mortimer, 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 Sub-Antarctic Islands are part of Zealandia, but Fijiand 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.

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.

Interestingly, GSA published the paper barely a week after scientists found a “lost continent” under the Indian Ocean.

Koushik Das, based in the Indian capital of New Delhi, is a senior news editor with more than 15 years of experience. He also runs a blog – Boundless Ocean of Politics. E-Mail: koushik@inserbia.info