Geography

Zealandia is not a continent

Now recognized in international law, Zealandia — the continental shelf and margin surrounding New Zealand — is vast and worthy of inquiry. However, we disagree with attempts to recharacterize it as the 'eighth continent' (see Nature http://doi.org/b2fk; 2017).

Zealandia has been extensively studied since 1895 (see W. H. F. Smith and D. T. Sandwell Science 277, 1956–1962; 1997). Such studies underpinned New Zealand's successful application to the United Nations to extend the limits of the continental shelf and its economic exclusion zone (see go.nature.com/2mbwmb).

Continents are defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as continuous terrestrial geographical features (“as distinguished from islands, islets, or peninsulas”). Geologists do not define continents: instead, they characterize the types of crust and delineate their geological features. By this definition, Zealandia is not a continent. Indeed, it is 94% continental margin with an extended shelf.

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Correspondence to Elizabeth M. Dowding.

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Dowding, E., Ebach, M. Zealandia is not a continent. Nature 543, 179 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/543179b

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