• Zealandia is a long, narrow microcontinent that is mostly submerged in the South Pacific Ocean.

    A microcontinent is a landmass that has broken off from a main continent. Zealandia broke off from Antarctica about 100 million years ago, and then from Australia about 80 million years ago.

    Zealandia is about half the size of Australia, but only 7 percent of it is above sea level. Most of that terrestrial land makes up the two large islands of the country of New Zealand, the North Island and the South Island. Stewart Island, just south of the South Island, and many smaller islets are also a part of Zealandia. New Caledonia, a collection of islands governed by France, makes up the northern tip of Zealandia.

    Zealandia generally enjoys a mild, temperate climate. Its largest islands have glaciers, the largest being Tasman Glacier on the South Island. Activity from the last glacial period also carved out many fjords and valleys. The tropical climate of New Caledonia, on the other hand, has more in common with Oceania and the South Pacific.

    Volcanic Activity

    Zealandia is a very tectonically active region. Part of the microcontinent is on the Australian plate, while the other part is on the Pacific plate.

    The northern part of Zealandia is very volcanic. There are six major areas with active volcanoes, the largest being the Taupo Volcanic Zone on the North Island. Geothermal activity caused by the interaction of the Australian and Pacific plates also means there are many natural geysers and hot springs scattered throughout Zealandia.

    Both the North and South Islands have volcanic mountain ranges running through their centers. The North Island is dominated by the North Island Volcanic Plateau, while the primary mountain range of the South Island is the Southern Alps. Both mountain ranges are slowly getting higher through a process called tectonic uplift.

    Underwater Zealandia

    The submerged part of Zealandia is rich in mineral deposits, although New Zealand's government strictly controls undersea mining activity. There are also many natural gas fields scattered throughout Zealandia. The Maui natural gas field in the Tasman Sea is the largest.

    Underwater Zealandia is of value to science as well as business. During glacial periods, sea levels fell, and more of Zealandia was above water. Zealandia's submerged fossils provide valuable clues to life during those time periods.

    Most of Zealandia lies underwater.

    Exclusively Zealandia
    The microcontinent of Zealandia helps determine New Zealand's Exclusive Economic Zone, or the offshore area around a country. A country may use any natural resources, such as oil or fish, in its EEZ without permission from another organization. New Zealand's EEZ is about 4.3 million square kilometers (2.7 million square miles), more than 15 times the amount of land above ground.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    climate Noun

    all weather conditions for a given location over a period of time.

    Encyclopedic Entry: climate
    continent Noun

    one of the seven main land masses on Earth.

    Encyclopedic Entry: continent
    fjord Noun

    long, narrow ocean inlet between steep slopes.

    Encyclopedic Entry: fjord
    fossil Noun

    remnant, impression, or trace of an ancient organism.

    Encyclopedic Entry: fossil
    fossil Noun

    remnant, impression, or trace of an ancient organism.

    Encyclopedic Entry: fossil
    geothermal energy Noun

    heat energy generated within the Earth.

    Encyclopedic Entry: geothermal energy
    geyser Noun

    natural hot spring that sometimes erupts with water or steam.

    Encyclopedic Entry: geyser
    glacial period Noun

    time of long-term lowering of temperatures on Earth. Also known as an ice age.

    glacier Noun

    mass of ice that moves slowly over land.

    Encyclopedic Entry: glacier
    hot spring Noun

    small flow of water flowing naturally from an underground water source heated by hot or molten rock.

    island Noun

    body of land surrounded by water.

    Encyclopedic Entry: island
    microcontinent Noun

    a type of large continental island.

    mineral Noun

    inorganic material that has a characteristic chemical composition and specific crystal structure.

    mining Noun

    process of extracting ore from the Earth.

    mountain range Noun

    series or chain of mountains that are close together.

    natural gas Noun

    type of fossil fuel made up mostly of the gas methane.

    Encyclopedic Entry: natural gas
    Oceania Noun

    region including island groups in the South Pacific.

    plate tectonics Noun

    movement and interaction of the Earth's plates.

    Polynesia Noun

    island group in the Pacific Ocean between New Zealand, Hawaii, and Easter Island.

    sea level Noun

    base level for measuring elevations. Sea level is determined by measurements taken over a 19-year cycle.

    Encyclopedic Entry: sea level
    submerge Verb

    to put underwater.

    temperate Adjective


    terrestrial Adjective

    having to do with the Earth or dry land.

    tropical Adjective

    existing in the tropics, the latitudes between the Tropic of Cancer in the north and the Tropic of Capricorn in the south.

    uplift Noun

    elevation of the Earth's surface due to tectonic or other natural activity.

    valley Noun

    depression in the Earth between hills.

    volcanic Adjective

    having to do with volcanoes.

    Zealandia Noun

    a microcontinent that broke off from Australia about 80 million years ago. Zealandia is almost totally underwater.

    Encyclopedic Entry: Zealandia