Kids are frequently taught that seven continents exist: Africa, Asia, Antarctica, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America.
Geologists, who look at the rocks (and tend to ignore the humans), group Europe and Asia into a supercontinent — Eurasia — making for a total of six geologic continents.
But according to a new study of Earth’s crust, there’s a seventh geologic continent called “Zealandia,” and it has been hiding under our figurative noses for millennia.
The 11 researchers behind the study say that New Zealand and New Caledonia aren’t merely island chains. Instead, they’re both part of a single, 4.9 million-square-kilometer (1.89 million-square-mile) slab of continental crust that’s distinct from Australia.
“This is not a sudden discovery, but a gradual realization; as recently as 10 years ago we would not have had the accumulated data or confidence in interpretation to write this paper,” the researchers wrote in GSA Today, a journal of the Geological Society of America.
Ten of the researchers work for institutions within the new continent; one works for a university in Australia. But other geologists are almost certain to accept the team’s continent-sized conclusions, says Bruce Luyendyk, a geophysicist at the University of California at Santa Barbara, who wasn’t involved in the study.