What is a Submerged Continent?

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

The term "submerged continent" is most often heard in association with the legendary lands of Atlantis or Mu. Atlantis and Mu never really existed, but there are a couple of real submerged continents around the world. Both are in the Southern Hemisphere. The submerged continents go by the names of Zealandia and the Kerguelen Plateau.

The mythical lands of Atlantis and Mu are popularly associated with submerged continents, but other real submerged continents actually exist.
The mythical lands of Atlantis and Mu are popularly associated with submerged continents, but other real submerged continents actually exist.

Zealandia is the largest of the two submerged continents, with a surface area of 3.5 million square kilometers, larger than Greenland and almost half the size of Australia. As its name suggests, the only part of the continent above water today are the islands of New Zealand. Zealandia quickly sunk when it broke off from Australia/Antarctica 83 million years ago. About 25 million years ago, Zealandia was completely underwater. Today, 93% is still underwater, with just 7% making up the New Zealand of today, which was created through tectonic action about 23 million years ago. Most of the submerged continent is less than 500 m (1,640 ft) below the surface.

New Zealand is the only part of the submerged continent Zealandia that is above water.
New Zealand is the only part of the submerged continent Zealandia that is above water.

Another submerged continent, far to the west, is called the Kerguelen Plateau or just Kerguelen. The continent is named after the Kerguelen islands, which along with Heard Island and the McDonald Islands are the only portions of the continent above the surface. Kerguelen is located in one of the regions of the world's oceans furthest from dry land, about 3,000 km southwest of Australia (1,864 mi) and 5,000 km (3,100 mi) south of India. Like Zealandia, Kerguelen was once part of the massive continent Gondwana, which was made up of practically all land masses in the present Southern Hemisphere. Kerguelen is smaller than Zealandia, with a surface area slightly larger than a million square kilometers, about three times the size of Japan. More than 99% of the continent is underwater.

Kerguelen began forming 110 million years ago, over the Kerguelen hotspot. Between 100 million years ago and 20 million years ago, the continent was above sea level three times, and may have had tropical flora and fauna 50 million years ago. Because of its size, Kerguelen is called a microcontinent. Kerguelen sank 20 million years ago and now lies 1-2 km (0.6 - 1.2 mi) below the ocean.

Submerged continents are those landmasses that have sunk beneath the ocean.
Submerged continents are those landmasses that have sunk beneath the ocean.
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime wiseGEEK contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

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Discussion Comments

Sporkasia

Laotionne - I don't know whether or not you believe global warming is for real, but if you believe that scientists are right about the earth getting warming then you can see how land above water now might not be above water in the future.

Scientists say that the ice is melting and weather patterns are changing this could easily mean that more water will enter the oceans and raise water levels. So areas that are near sea level could be in danger. I don't know how long it would take for an entire continent to dip below sea level, but that is something to think about.

Feryll

Laotionne - I remember hearing that at some point California, or at least part of the state, is going to break off from the United States and the continent because of all the earthquakes in that part of the world. I don't know whether the land will stay afloat and become an island or whether it will sink and be all under water, but either way this goes to show how the continents are still changing, or how they could possibly change.

Laotionne

I didn't know New Zealand was part of a submerged continent. I always thought the island looked out of place out there all by itself. Since we know there are continents underwater, I wonder what are the chances of other continents becoming flooded and then ending up under water.

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