Where’s Your Submerged Continent? The Fascinating Story of Zealandia

March 15, 2022
In every field of endeavor, observation-based study and the testing of theories are the key to making advances of all kinds. The fascinating story of the full discovery of the submerged continent of Zealandia tells a tale

Editor's Notes: March-April 2022 Issue of Healthcare Innovation

Did you know that there is an eighth continent on planet Earth, one that it took 375 years for humans to discover? That might sound like science fiction, but in fact, there actually is an eighth continent, though there is also good reason why it remained undiscovered for so long. The eighth continent is called Zealandia, and as the Wikipedia article on the subject explains, “Zealandia, also known as Te Riu-a-Māui (Māori) or Tasmantis, is an almost entirely submerged mass of continental crust that subsided after breaking away from Gondwanaland 83–79 million years ago. It has been described variously as a submerged continent, a continental fragment (or microcontinent), and a continent. The name and concept for Zealandia was proposed by Bruce Luyendyk in 1995, and satellite imagery shows it to be almost the size of Australia. A 2021 study suggests Zealandia is 1 billion years old, about twice as old as geologists previously thought,” with just New Zealand, New Caledonia, and some very small islands popping up to the surface, despite the underlying 1.9 million-square-mile size of the submerged continent undergirding those islands.

So, how was Zealandia discovered? As Zaria Gorvett wrote in a February 7, 2021 article in the BBC online, “In 2017, a group of geologists hit the headlines when they announced their discovery of Zealandia.” Gorvett wrote that “The first real clues of Zealandia's existence were gathered by the Scottish naturalist Sir James Hector, who attended a voyage to survey a series of islands off the southern coast of New Zealand in 1895. After studying their geology, he concluded that New Zealand is ‘the remnant of a mountain-chain that formed the crest of a great continental area that stretched far to the south and east, and which is now submerged….’” But it took more than a century of scientific advances before geologists and other scientists were able to piece together the full story, redefining the concept of “continent” in the process.  

The rock-solid (as it were) evidence of Zealandia’s continental status was confirmed just last year, in a research article in the journal Geology, written by scientists R.E. Turnbull, J.J. Schwartz, M.L. Fiorentini, R. Jongens, N.J. Evans, T. Ludwig, B.J. McDonald, and K.A. Klepeis, entitled “A hidden Rodinian lithospheric keel beneath Zealandia, Earth’s newly recognized continent.” Those scientists noted that “Recognition of a concealed Precambrian lithosphere beneath Zealandia and the uniqueness of the pervasive low-δ18O isotope domain link Zealandia to South China, providing a novel test of specific hypotheses of continental block arrangements within Rodinia”—in other words, the geologic evidence supports defining Zealandia as a full, if submerged continent.

In every field of endeavor, observation-based study and the testing of theories are the key to making advances of all kinds. In the healthcare delivery sphere, leaders in patient care organizations nationwide are experimenting with new ways to deliver, manage, analyze, and improve care. As our cover story package on our Innovator Awards Program winners demonstrates (p. 4), patient care leaders are innovating in countless ways—and everyone can learn from one another. Each of the four winning teams, as well as each of the semi-finalist teams, has provided a template for others to follow. It’s an exciting time for everyone in healthcare, and despite all the challenges of the current moment, leaders are moving forward to create the healthcare of the future.

What those leaders are doing builds on previous work in the field, and they are demonstrating the same spirit of enterprise that the geologists who discovered and documented Zealandia have done. So where’s your lost continent? A world of discovery awaits.