Scientists claim existence of drowned Pacific Ocean continent

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An illustration provided to Reuters February 18, 2017 shows what geologists are calling Zealandia (C), a continent two-thirds the size of Australia lurking beneath the waves in the southwest Pacific.

An illustration provided to Reuters February 18, 2017 shows what geologists are calling Zealandia (C), a continent two-thirds the size of Australia lurking beneath the waves in the southwest Pacific.

SYDNEY - A continent two-thirds the size of Australia has been found beneath the south-west Pacific Ocean, scientists reported in the journal of the Geological Society of America.

READ: Why the discovery of a small continental fragment in the Indian Ocean matters

The land mass of 4.5 million square kilometres (1.74 million square miles) is 94 percent underwater and only its highest points - New Zealand and New Caldeonia - poke above the surface.

PICTURED: Relief location map of the Pacific Ocean. CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons/Uwe Dedering

"It's rather frustrating for us geologists with the oceans being there," said Nick Mortimer, a geologist at GNS Science in Dunedin, New Zealand.

"If we could pull the plug on the oceans it would be clear to everyone we have mountain chains and a big high-standing continent above the ocean crust."

Mortimer was lead author of the paper titled "Zealandia: Earth's hidden continent" which says the new discoveries prove what had long been suspected.

"Since about the 1920s, from time to time in geology papers people used the word 'continental' to describe various parts of New Zealand and the Catham Islands and New Caledionia," Mortimer said.

"The difference now is that we feel we've gathered enough information to change 'continental' to the noun, 'continent'."

PICTURED: Satellite image of Oceania. CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons

Mortimer said geologists early in the previous century had found granite from sub-antarctic islands near New Zealand and metaphormic rocks on New Caledonia that were indicative of continental geology. If the recent discovery is accepted by the scientific community, cartographers will probably have to add an eighth continent to future maps and atlases.

"The paper we've written unashamedly sticks to empirical observations and descriptions," Mortimer said.

"The litmus test will really be if 'Zealandia' appears in maps and atlases in five or 10 year's time."

"Zealandia" is believed to have broken away from Australia about 80 million years ago and sank beneath the sea as part of the break up of the super-continent known as Gondwanaland.