18 September 2011

Re the arbitrary definition of continents

Via Neatorama.


  1. Wonderful! I had a laugh at the very end. Passing this on to my various geeky friends, who know darn good and well that Question + Science /= Answer.

  2. I think they got the geologic take on continents wrong. Continents are carried by plates, they're not the plates themselves. And continents are distinct from island arcs, so the Pacific plate has no continents, nor do the several small tectonic plates.

    The North American plate is under North America, Greenland and part of northeastern Eurasia.

    For some geologic nomenclature, "continent" applies to the ancient precambrian "shield" cores of continents, but generally a continent is a large raft of lighter rock carried along by denser plate material. A continent isn't just land above water, it's contiguous material that also forms the continental shelves. Antarctica is geologically a continent even if it part of it would be underwater with its icecap melted.

    I think the broad geologic view of continents as "rafts" of core and accreted rocks carried by tectonic plates is as reasonable a view as is possible if we must have one meaning for the word "continent". However, just because we have a word doesn't mean that a single simplistic definition is consistent with all viewpoints or uses.

  3. Cool!

    I was just having this giant discussion as a brazilian living in Germany with a bunch of latin american and german friends. We end up with the political division (spliting Eurasia and including central america, middle east as individual continets.

  4. I like to point out continental oddities that other people over look. By calling Israelis Asians. Or, by pointing out that Egypt is partially in Asia. But that Kazakhstan is half in Europe.

    Or, that the EU stretches over most continents because French Guyana is part of France, and on (South) America; St Pierre and Miquelon are also part of France and hence in the EU; the Canary island, and Ceuta, both of Spain are in Africa and Cyprus being behind Turkey (as seen from Europe) is definitively in Asia. EU countries also claim significant chunks of Antarctica, and there are plenty of English and French islands in the Pacific to claim that as well.

    And they call the US a world wide colonial power. Ha!

  5. The US doesn't have that many outlying territories and colonies, but it does maintain military bases in a staggering number of places.

  6. I have heard (from Geographers, NOT Geologists incidentally) that a continent is a land mass of at least 1 million square mile in continuous area, which means that Australia is in (it's 2,967,893 square miles), but Greenland, at 840,000 square miles is out. Antarctica incidentally IS included because the pressure of all of that ice depresses the land; move Antarctica north to the Equator over a period of a couple of hundred years (or even better, couple of thousand years) and it would grow in size with the melting of the ice and the subsequent raising of the land.

    Europe and Asia though are another matter altogether.

  7. I think by leaving out the historical part of naming continents (which is responsible for Europe and Asia)they missed some extra chances.

    By not mentioning it, Asia and Europe are just as much of a continent as North and South America are

  8. Love this set of videos. I highly recommend the copyright one as well:


    It makes me want to scream in anger and frustration.


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