New Zealand, the land of Hobbits, ridiculously beautiful landscapes and, uh, The Feebles, has just become a little bit more magical.
An entire flipping continent might be hiding beneath New Zealand, geologists say. The area, named Zealandia, is massive.
At 4.9-million square kilometers, or nearly 1.9-million square miles, it's bigger than all of India. Yet most of it — about 94 percent — is submerged in the ocean, according to a new study in the Geological Society of America's journal, GSA Today.
Image: Mortimer et AL, GSA Today (2017)
Geologists haven't officially declared Zealandia a new continent. Instead, the study's authors make the case that it should be in the continent club with Africa, Antarctica, Australia, Eurasia, North America and South America.
Zealandia was once part of Gondwana, the ancient supercontinent that merged with Laurasia around 335 million years ago to form the singular supercontinent Pangea, the study states.
So how did it go missing for so long?
Researchers say that's because geologists are still improving their understanding of things like what defines the continent-ocean boundaries and how the breakup of supercontinents transformed the Earth's surface.
The team, led by New Zealand-based geologist Nick Mortimer, argues that Zealandia is not merely a fragment of a continent, or a microcontinent left behind by Pangea, but a continent in its own right.
Image: Mortimer et al, gsa today (2017)
Continents are generally considered to be large, identifiable areas that are underlain by continental crust. If you take away the ocean water surrounding New Zealand and New Caledonia, that's exactly what you'll find.
These islands and others are connected by a submerged chunk of continental crust that runs across a large area of the Earth's surface, the researchers found.
"The mostly underwater continent is geologically separate and distinct from Australia and Antarctica and... should be treated as such," Mortimer and his colleagues said in a press release.
Just goes to show: New Zealand is just as magical as Peter Jackson always told us it was.