Zealandia: the continent that is resurfacing on the world wide web

Zealandia, the sunken continent that has long kept its secrets, is finally being revealed thanks to technological advances and the mapping efforts of scientists, emerging like a hidden treasure in the heart of the Pacific Ocean.

Around 85 million years ago, Zealandia took shape within the supercontinent Gondwana, and as the Earth underwent tectonic changes and the continents separated, Zealandia gradually moved away from what we recognise today as the Australian and New Zealand regions. This ‘eighth continent’ covers an area of 4.9 million square kilometres, equivalent to half the continent of Europe, much of it submerged.

In 2017, the news of the discovery of the potential existence of a new continent on Earth left its mark on minds and scientific circles, becoming for some a revolutionary piece of information that could change our vision of the planet. In reality, the discovery of this new continent was the result of two decades of hard work, combining the collection of bathymetric and geophysical data with marine sampling in a neglected region of the ocean. So much so that its cartography is less detailed than that of Venus or Mars…

However, this discovery has not aroused any enthusiasm on the web. Published on 9 February 2017 in the journal of the American Geological Association, at that time there were only a handful of relevant discussions on a national scale, relayed like news briefs by the generalist media on the web and social networks. Discussions about this new continent also remained very low-key, with only a handful of individual accounts relaying articles purely for information purposes, without specifically giving their opinion on the subject.

At this stage, despite its importance, it would appear that the general public is not unanimous about this discovery, as there is as yet no tangible proof of its existence (the criteria for defining a continent vary from one specialist to another). The enthusiasm is still too timid and does not occupy enough space in the digital landscape.

It took six years of intensive research and in-depth analysis by international scientists to produce an exhaustive map of this underwater continent, published in the American Geophysical Union’s journal Tectonics.

To achieve this, the researchers used seismic data from the area around New Zealand and drilled deep-sea wells to collect samples of underwater rock. These samples have been undergoing detailed analysis since 2017.

When the study was published at the end of September, it was widely picked up by the media and digital platforms, generating far more excitement than six years earlier. In the days following publication, there was a significant increase in the media impact of Zealandia. The media and experts disseminated this information, offering considerable visibility and generating a large number of engagements.

What’s more, a comparison of national and global spin-offs reveals a significant disparity in the number and distribution of media coverage (194 vs. 16,000). In fact, the French media mainly relayed this discovery from 2 October onwards, whereas the study had been published in English more than three days earlier.

Discussions about Zealandia in France over the last 30 days
194 results & 976 commits

Discussions about Zealandia in the world over the last 30 days
+ 16 000 results & 235 000 results

This notable difference seems to reflect a relatively limited interest on the part of the French community in geographical and geological subjects. This is all the more surprising given that New Caledonia is a French territory located at the heart of this archipelago.

What’s more, the mapping of Zealandia has opened up new prospects for research and discovery. Geologists continue to explore this complex region to learn more about its history and its implications for planetary geology. There’s no doubt that we’ll be hearing more about it in the future, and who knows, maybe we’ll see the emergence of new lost continents (Icelandia)?

By Benjamin Guerin