Author: Miking98

Zealandia Should be Designated as a Continent

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PRO (3 arguments)

Definitions:

Zealandia- a nearly submerged landmass that sank after breaking away from Australia 60–85 million years ago

1. Zealandia meets all the established criteria to be considered a continent.
Warrant:

Accuracy and precision are everything in science.  If we don’t adhere to scientific definitions by the book, then nothing in science will be credible. 

New Zealand and New Caledonia are large, isolated islands in the southwest Pacific Ocean. They have never been regarded as part of the Australian continent, although the geographic term Australasia often is used for the collective land and islands of the southwest Pacific region. In 1995, a UC Santa Barbara scientist, Bruce Luyendyk, named the region “Zealandia” because it is made of a collection of formal pieces of continents which include New Zealand the islands of New Caladonia. In the March 2017 edition of the Geological Society of America, a group of geologists published their research which concluded that indeed, Zealandia should be called a “continent” because it met all of the scientific requirements of a continent.  There are 4 criteria that need to be met for a piece of land to be called a continent:

  1. Land that pokes up relatively high from the ocean floor.

  2. A diversity of three types of rocks: igneous (spewed by volcanoes), metamorphic (altered by heat/pressure), and sedimentary (made by erosion).

  3. A thicker, less dense section of crust compared with surrounding ocean floor.

  4. Well-defined limits around a large enough area to be considered a continent rather than a microcontinent or continental fragment.

The geologists determined that Zealandia meets all four of the criteria above. This conclusion was further supported by recent detailed satellite-based elevation and gravity maps of the ancient seafloor to show that Zealandia is indeed part of a unified region. The data also suggests Zealandia spans "approximately the area of greater India" — larger than Madagascar, New Guinea, Greenland, or other pieces of crust. Zealandia measures 1.9 million square miles, which is about two thirds of neighbouring Australia.

Impact:

Scientifically, it is an extremely important discovery and although there may not be a great impact on the world if Zealandia is labeled a continent, scientifically speaking it is correct, and therefore should be designated as one.

Sources:

BBC, Business Insider, The Sun (UK)

2. Making Zealandia a continent would economically benefit New Zealand and New Caledonia.
Warrant:

Acknowledging the continental shelf of Zealandia gives New Zealand control over more of its ocean for drilling and mining rights.  Having New Zealand control this underwater economic activity is better overall than leaving it open to any country for exploitation. 

When the Convention on the Law of the Sea held by the United National took place in the 1990s, 60 countries entered into an agreement that countries will own the oceans 12 miles from their shores.  Between 12 and 200 miles, other countries can pass through without permission, but the nearest country still retains many drilling and fishing rights.  Beyond 200 miles, there is no laws governing economic or other exploitative activities.  However, one exception to that rule is Article 76, which says that a nation can lay claim to a continental shelf’s drilling and mining rights if they can prove it’s connected to their country.  New Zealand started conducting scientific research into it’s surrounding waters and proved that there was continental crust, and the UN accepted New Zealand’s continental shelf in 2004.  This significantly expanded New Zealand’s resource extractions rights.  If the United Nations accepted Zealandia’s continental definition back in 2004, why can’t the rest of the world? 

Impact:

The impact of this is that New Zealand's economy would benefit greatly from the nautical miles it has gained and the access to oil and other resources.  It also means New Zealand will be responsible for protecting the ecosystem of this area. Officially recognizing Zealandia will mean consistent treatment in the future for this land mass, regardless of designations by the United Nations or any other international organization.

3. Scientists should designate Zealandia as our smallest continent, and in doing so, they should further define what size makes a land mass a continent.
Warrant:

Since there is no official scientific minimum for continental size, Zealandia should be called a continent (and not a microcontinent or a mini-continent) to keep continental definitions manageable and minimize future confusion.  New planets have international panels that can officially name them. But there is no such group to officially validate new continents. But for a decade, geologists and others have been building a case that Zealandia is a continent.  Other geologists want to call Zealandia a microcontinent or propose a new intermediate term, a “mini-continent” which is between a microcontinent and a full blown continent. Currently, Zealandia is in a “grey zone” of size.  It is too big to be a microcontinent. Madagascar is one of the larger microcontinents, and Zealandia is 6 times the size of Madagascar, so it doesn’t fit into this group of land masses. However, it will become our smallest continent. So to keep the definitions uniform and prevent an explosion of new terms that will end up being confusing, proponents of making Zealandia a continent also suggest making a rule that continents must be at least 1 million square kilometers.  Measurements of continents have always included both above sea level and submerged land mass, so this would allow Zealandia to be called a continent, but if other smaller land masses fulfill the definition (such as Greenland, New Guinea or Madagascar), they would have to also be at least 1 million square kilometers to be called continents.  This would prevent complications of opening the definitions too widely and having too many land masses become continents. Additionally, some critics believe Zealandia and Australia should be part of a new continent called Oceania.  However, this is scientifically inaccurate as Zealandia is distinct from nearby Australia, hence cannot be part of Oceania. “If Zealandia was physically attached to Australia, then the big news story here wouldn’t be that there’s a new continent on planet Earth,” geologist Nick Mortimer says. “It’d be that the Australian continent is 4.9 million square kilometers larger.”

Impact:

Zealandia should be our smallest continent, and scientists should make more definite size requirements to clear up how big a land mass must be to be called a “continent.” This should prevent future confusion about the definition of what makes a land mass a continent.

Sources:

Geological Society of America; Carlton University of Ottawa