Ever wanted to visit all the world's continents? But how many are there? Most school kids will say there are 7 continents in the world (standard English textbook definition) the real answer is much murkier. It's something reminiscent of the question - how many planets are there? There were nine planets until Pluto was stricken from the list - but even then scientists think there could be a ninth undiscovered planet out there.
A continent is a large landmass but what exactly constitutes a continent is determined by convention and not by any strict criteria. There is no recognized body that lists the continents. Antarctica is the hardest one to visit, but even the South Pole can be accessed by tourists.
The Complications of Counting The Continents
The most standard answer to how many continents there are is seven. The seven geographical regions are called Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Antarctica, Europe, and Australia.
- Textbook Answer: Seven Continents
But there are variations to this list. Some in the Spanish-speaking world consider North and South America (aka the Americas) to be a single continent because they are geographically linked. Although they still contend that Africa, Europe, and Asia are separate continents even though they are linked.
By some reckonings, Europe is not so much a continent as a massive peninsular of Asia (with the resulting landmass being called "Eurasia"). By the opposite token, the Indian Subcontinent can be considered a continent for similar reasons that Europe is.
- India: Often Called a Subcontinent
Some have thought that Australia is a bit small and is sometimes called the "Island Continent".
How Islands Are Grouped
Generally, oceanic islands are grouped with a nearby continent so that the world can be neatly split up. That makes sense in many cases - like the United Kingdom (Europe), Greenland (North America), western Indonesian islands (Asia), and New Guniea (Australia). All of these islands were part of the same (but partially submerged) continental crust and were joined together during the Last Glacial Maximum.
But it makes little sense for landmasses like Madagascar (grouped with Africa) - a continental fragment that split away from Africa many millions of years ago. And it makes no sense of the islands of Hawaii (grouped with North America) that have nothing to do with a continent or any continental crust.
The Standard Seven Continents of The World
- Size: 44.6 Million km2 or 17 Million square Miles
- Percentage of World Landmass: 29.8% Total Landmass
- Population: 4.6 Billion
- Percentage of World Population: 60% Total Population
- Size: 30 Million km2 or 11.7 Million square Miles
- Percentage of World Landmass: 20.3% Total Landmass
- Population: 1.3 Billion
- Percentage of World Population: 17% Total Population
- Size: 24 Million km2 or 9 Million square Miles
- Percentage of World Landmass: 16.2% Total Landmass
- Population: 0.58 Billion
- Percentage of World Population: 7.6% Total Population
- Size: 17.8 Million km2 or 6.9 Million square Miles
- Percentage of World Landmass: 11.9% Total Landmass
- Population: 0.42 Billion
- Percentage of World Population: 5.6% Total Population
- Size: 14 Million km2 or 5.5 Million square Miles
- Percentage of World Landmass: 9.5% Total Landmass
- Population: 0.0 Billion
- Percentage of World Population: 0% Total Population
- Size: 10 Million km2 or 3.9 Million square Miles
- Percentage of World Landmass: 6.7% Total Landmass
- Population: 0.75 Billion
- Percentage of World Population: 9.8% Total Population
- Size: 8.5 Million km2 or 3 Million square Miles
- Percentage of World Landmass: 5.7% Total Landmass
- Population: 0.042 Billion
- Percentage of World Population: 0.54% Total Population
All of these are easy to visit - except for Antarctica. There are a number of (expensive) ways to visit Antarctica and there is even a number of accommodation options there - from limited to luxury.
The Emerging Submerged Continent of Zealandia
There are some calls for submerged masses of continental crusts to be considered continents. There are calls for an eighth 94% submerged continent to be recognized of Zealandia.The Matter of The "Eighth Continent of Zealandia"
In geology, continents are defined as "one of Earth's major landmasses, including both dry land and continental shelves." This would lend Zealandia to really being the eighth continent. According to the BBC the criteria the scientists used to include Zealandia are:
- elevation above the surrounding area
- distinctive geology
- a well-defined area
- a crust thicker than the regular ocean floor
Zealandia has now been shown to be nearly the size of Australia - only most of it is underwater. It is also about twice as old as geologists had previously thought. While some term it a microcontinent, it is around 6 times larger than the next largest "microcontinent" of Madagascar. It is also larger than the Indian Subcontinent.
- 6x Larger: Than The Next Largest "Microcontinent of Madagascar
- Submerged: Around 94% of Zealandia is Submerged
- Main Landmasses: New Zealand and New Caledonia - Main Bits Poking Above The Water
So it seems if one truly wants to have claimed to have visited all the continents, then one shouldn't skip out on visiting New Zealand while in Australia.