continent
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A continent is any of several large
landmass A landmass, or land mass, is a large region In geography Geography (from Greek: , ''geographia'', literally "earth description") is a field of science devoted to the study of the lands, features, inhabitants, and phenomena of the E ...
es. Generally identified by
convention Convention may refer to: * Convention (norm), a custom or tradition, a standard of presentation or conduct ** Treaty, an agreement in international law * Convention (meeting), meeting of a (usually large) group of individuals and/or companies in a ...
rather than any strict criteria, up to seven geographical regions are commonly regarded as continents. Ordered from largest in area to smallest, these seven regions are:
Asia Asia () is a landmass variously described as part of Eurasia Eurasia () is the largest continent A continent is any of several large landmasses. Generally identified by convention (norm), convention rather than any strict crite ...

Asia
,
Africa Africa is the world's second-largest and second-most populous continent A continent is one of several large landmasses. Generally identified by convention (norm), convention rather than any strict criteria, up to seven regions are ...

Africa
,
North America North America is a continent entirely within the Northern Hemisphere and almost all within the Western Hemisphere. It can also be described as the northern subcontinent of the Americas. It is bordered to the north by the Arctic Ocean, to ...

North America
,
South America South America is a entirely in the and mostly in the , with a relatively small portion in the . It can also be described as the southern of a single continent called (see the ). The reference to South America instead of other cultural ...

South America
,
Antarctica Antarctica ( or ) is Earth's southernmost continent. It contains the geographic South Pole and is situated in the Antarctic region of the Southern Hemisphere, almost entirely south of the Antarctic Circle, and is surrounded by the Southern Oce ...

Antarctica
,
Europe Europe is a which is also recognised as part of , located entirely in the and mostly in the . It comprises the westernmost peninsulas of the of Eurasia, it shares the continental landmass of with both and , and is bordered by the to the ...

Europe
, and
Australia Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a Sovereign state, sovereign country comprising the mainland of the Australia (continent), Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous List of islands of Australia, sma ...
. "Most people recognize seven continents—Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Antarctica, Europe, and Australia, from largest to smallest—although sometimes Asia and Europe are considered a single continent, Eurasia." Variations with fewer continents may merge some of these, for example some systems include
Afro-Eurasia Afro-Eurasia (or Afroeurasia, Field, Henry.The University of California African Expedition: I, Egypt, ''American Anthropologist,'' New Series Vol. 50, No. 3, Part 1 (Jul. - Sep., 1948), pp. 479-493. or Eurafrasia), nicknamed the World Island, ...

Afro-Eurasia
,
America The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US), or America, is a country primarily located in North America North America is a continent entirely within the Northern Hemisphere and almost all ...

America
or
Eurasia Eurasia () is the largest continent A continent is any of several large landmasses. Generally identified by convention (norm), convention rather than any strict criteria, up to seven geographical regions are commonly regarded as contin ...

Eurasia
as single continents.
Zealandia Zealandia (prounounced ), also known as ( Māori) or Tasmantis, is an almost entirely submerged mass of continental crust 350px, The thickness of Crust (geology)#Earth's crust, Earth's crust (km) Continental crust is the layer of Igneous ...
, a largely submerged mass of continental crust, has also been described as a continent. Oceanic islands are frequently grouped with a nearby continent to divide all the world's land into geographical regions. Under this scheme, most of the island countries and territories in the
Pacific Ocean The Pacific Ocean is the largest and deepest of Earth's oceanic divisions. It extends from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Southern Ocean (or, depending on definition, to Antarctica) in the south and is bounded by the continents of Asia ...

Pacific Ocean
are grouped together with the continent of Australia to form a geographical region called ''
Oceania Oceania (, , ) is a Region, geographic region that includes Australasia, Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. Spanning the eastern hemisphere, Eastern and Western Hemispheres, Oceania has a land area of and a population of over 41 million. Wh ...

Oceania
''. In
geology Geology (from the Ancient Greek γῆ, ''gē'' ("earth") and -λoγία, ''-logia'', ("study of", "discourse")) is an Earth science concerned with the solid Earth, the rock (geology), rocks of which it is composed, and the processes by which th ...

geology
, a continent is defined as "one of Earth's major landmasses, including both dry
land Land is the solid surface of Earth that is not permanently submerged in water. Most but not all land is situated at elevations above sea level (variable over geologic time frames) and consists mainly of Earth's crust, crustal components such a ...

land
and
continental shelves
continental shelves
". The geological continents correspond to six large areas of
continental crust 350px, The thickness of Crust (geology)#Earth's crust, Earth's crust (km) Continental crust is the layer of Igneous rock, igneous, Sedimentary rock, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks that forms the geological continents and the areas of shallo ...
that are found on the
tectonic plates This is a list of tectonic plates on Earth's surface. Tectonic plates are pieces of Earth's crust 350px, Plates in the crust of Earth Earth's crust is a thin shell on the outside of Earth, accounting for less than 1% of Earth's volume. It is ...
, but exclude small
continental fragment Continental crustal fragments, partially synonymous with microcontinents, are pieces of continents that have broken off from main continental masses to form distinct islands that are often several hundred kilometers from their place of origin. Ca ...
s such as
Madagascar Madagascar (; mg, Madagasikara), officially the Republic of Madagascar ( mg, Repoblikan'i Madagasikara, links=no, ; french: République de Madagascar), and previously known as the Malagasy Republic, is an island country in the Indian Ocean, a ...

Madagascar
that are generally referred to as microcontinents. Continental crust is only known to exist on
Earth Earth is the third planet from the Sun and the only astronomical object known to harbour and support life. 29.2% of Earth's surface is land consisting of continents and islands. The remaining 70.8% is Water distribution on Earth, covered wit ...

Earth
.


Definitions and application

By convention, continents "are understood to be large, continuous, discrete masses of land, ideally separated by expanses of water". In modern schemes with five or more recognised continents, at least one pair of continents is joined by land in some way. The criterion "large" leads to arbitrary classification:
Greenland Greenland ( kl, Kalaallit Nunaat, ; da, Grønland, ) is an Autonomous administrative division, autonomous territory* * * within the Danish Realm and the List of islands by area, world's largest island, located between the Arctic Ocean, Arcti ...

Greenland
, with a surface area of , is only considered the world's largest island, while
Australia Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a Sovereign state, sovereign country comprising the mainland of the Australia (continent), Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous List of islands of Australia, sma ...
, at , is deemed the smallest continent.
Earth Earth is the third planet from the Sun and the only astronomical object known to harbour and support life. 29.2% of Earth's surface is land consisting of continents and islands. The remaining 70.8% is Water distribution on Earth, covered wit ...

Earth
's major landmasses all have coasts on a single, continuous
World Ocean The ocean (also the sea or the world ocean) is the body of Saline water, salt water that covers approximately 70.8% of the surface of Earth and contains 97% of Water distribution on Earth, Earth's water. Another definition is "any of the larg ...
, which is divided into a number of principal
ocean The ocean (also the sea The sea, connected as the world ocean or simply the ocean The ocean (also the sea or the world ocean) is the body of salt water which covers approximately 71% of the surface of the Earth.
ic components by the continents and various geographic criteria.Distribution of land and water on the planet
."
UN Atlas of the Oceans
'' (2004). Retrieved 20 February 2007.


Extent

The most restricted meaning of ''continent'' is that of a continuous area of land or mainland, with the coastline and any land boundaries forming the edge of the continent. In this sense, the term ''
continental Europe Continental Europe or mainland Europe is the contiguous continent A continent is any of several large landmasses. Generally identified by convention (norm), convention rather than any strict criteria, up to seven geographical region ...

continental Europe
'' (sometimes referred to in Britain as "the Continent") is used to refer to mainland Europe, excluding
island An island (or isle) is an isolated piece of habitat that is surrounded by a dramatically different habitat, such as water. Very small islands such as emergent land features on atoll An atoll (), sometimes known as a coral atoll, is ...

island
s such as
Great Britain Great Britain is an island in the North Atlantic Ocean off the northwest coast of continental Europe. With an area of , it is the largest of the British Isles, the List of European islands by area, largest European island, and the List of i ...

Great Britain
,
Iceland Iceland ( is, Ísland; ) is a Nordic Nordic most commonly refers to: * Nordic countries, written in plural as Nordics, the northwestern European countries, including Scandinavia, Fennoscandia and the List of islands in the Atlantic Ocean#No ...

Iceland
,
Ireland Ireland ( ; ga, Éire ; Ulster-Scots: ) is an island upright=1.15, Great_Britain.html"_;"title="Ireland_(left)_and_Great_Britain">Ireland_(left)_and_Great_Britain_(right),_are_large_islands_of_north-west_Europe image:Small_Island_in ...

Ireland
, and
Malta Malta ( , , ), officially known as the Republic of Malta ( mt, Repubblika ta' Malta ) and formerly Melita, is a Southern European island country consisting of an archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea. It lies south of Italy, east of Tunisia ...

Malta
while the term ''continent of Australia'' may refer to the
mainland of Australia
mainland of Australia
, excluding
New Guinea New Guinea (; Hiri Motu Hiri Motu, also known as Police Motu, Pidgin Motu, or just Hiri, is a language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign ...

New Guinea
,
Tasmania Tasmania (), abbreviated as TAS, is an island States and territories of Australia, state of Australia. It is located 240 km (150 mi) to the south of the Mainland Australia, Australian mainland, separated from it by Bass Strait. T ...
, and other nearby islands. Similarly, the ''
continental United States The contiguous United States or officially the conterminous United States consists of the 48 adjoining U.S. state In the United States The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US), or Americ ...
'' refers to the 48 contiguous states and the
District of Columbia ) , image_skyline = , image_caption = Clockwise from top left: the and on the , , , , , storefronts in , , image_flag = Flag of the District of Columbia.svg , image_seal = Seal ...
and may include
Alaska Alaska (; ale, Alax̂sxax̂; ; ems, Alas'kaaq; Central Alaskan Yup'ik language, Yup'ik: ''Alaskaq''; tli, Anáaski) is a U.S. state in the Western United States, on the northwest extremity of the country's West Coast of the United State ...

Alaska
in the northwest of the continent (the two being separated by
Canada Canada is a country in the northern part of . Its extend from the to the and northward into the , covering , making it the world's . Its southern and western , stretching , is the world's longest bi-national land border. Canada's capital ...

Canada
), while excluding
Hawaii Hawaii ( ; haw, Hawaii or ) is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ''The State'' (newspape ...

Hawaii
in the
Pacific Ocean The Pacific Ocean is the largest and deepest of Earth's oceanic divisions. It extends from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Southern Ocean (or, depending on definition, to Antarctica) in the south and is bounded by the continents of Asia ...

Pacific Ocean
. From the perspective of
geology Geology (from the Ancient Greek γῆ, ''gē'' ("earth") and -λoγία, ''-logia'', ("study of", "discourse")) is an Earth science concerned with the solid Earth, the rock (geology), rocks of which it is composed, and the processes by which th ...

geology
or
physical geography Physical geography (also known as physiography) is one of the two fields of geography Geography (from Greek: , ''geographia'', literally "earth description") is a field of science devoted to the study of the lands, features, inhabita ...
, ''continent'' may be extended beyond the confines of continuous dry land to include the shallow, submerged adjacent area (the
continental shelf A continental shelf is a portion of a continent A continent is one of several large landmasses. Generally identified by convention (norm), convention rather than any strict criteria, up to seven regions are commonly regarded as continen ...

continental shelf
) and the
island An island (or isle) is an isolated piece of habitat that is surrounded by a dramatically different habitat, such as water. Very small islands such as emergent land features on atoll An atoll (), sometimes known as a coral atoll, is ...

island
s on the shelf ( continental islands), as they are structurally part of the continent. From this perspective, the edge of the continental shelf is the true edge of the continent, as shorelines vary with changes in sea level. Ollier, Cliff D. (1996). Planet Earth. In Ian Douglas (Ed.), ''Companion Encyclopedia of Geography: The Environment and Humankind''. London: Routledge, p. 30. "Ocean waters extend onto continental
rocks In geology Geology (from the Ancient Greek γῆ, ''gē'' ("earth") and -λoγία, ''-logia'', ("study of", "discourse")) is an Earth science concerned with the solid Earth, the rock (geology), rocks of which it is composed, and the proc ...
at continental shelves, and the true edges of the continents are the steeper continental slopes. The actual shorelines are rather accidental, depending on the height of sea-level on the sloping shelves."
In this sense the islands of Great Britain and Ireland are part of Europe, while Australia and the island of New Guinea together form a continent. As a
cultural construct Social constructionism is a epistemology, theory of knowledge in sociology and communication theory that examines the development of jointly-constructed understandings of the world that form the basis for shared assumptions about reality. The ...
, the concept of a continent may go beyond the continental shelf to include
oceanic islands upright=1.15, Great_Britain.html"_;"title="Ireland_(left)_and_Great_Britain">Ireland_(left)_and_Great_Britain_(right),_are_large_islands_of_north-west_Europe image:Small_Island_in_Lower_Saranac_Lake.jpg.html" ;"title="Great Britain">Ireland (l ...
and continental fragments. In this way, Iceland is considered part of Europe and
Madagascar Madagascar (; mg, Madagasikara), officially the Republic of Madagascar ( mg, Repoblikan'i Madagasikara, links=no, ; french: République de Madagascar), and previously known as the Malagasy Republic, is an island country in the Indian Ocean, a ...

Madagascar
part of Africa. Extrapolating the concept to its extreme, some geographers group the Australian continental plate with other islands in the Pacific into one "quasi-continent" called
Oceania Oceania (, , ) is a Region, geographic region that includes Australasia, Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. Spanning the eastern hemisphere, Eastern and Western Hemispheres, Oceania has a land area of and a population of over 41 million. Wh ...

Oceania
. This divides the entire land surface of Earth into continents or quasi-continents.


Separation

The criterion that each continent is a discrete landmass is commonly relaxed due to historical conventions and practical use. Of the seven most globally recognized continents, only Antarctica and Australia are completely separated from other continents by the ocean. Several continents are defined not as absolutely distinct bodies but as "''more or less'' discrete masses of land". Asia and Africa are joined by the
Isthmus of Suez The Isthmus of Suez is the 75-mile-wide (125-km) strip of land
, and North and South America by the
Isthmus of Panama The Isthmus of Panama ( es, Istmo de Panamá), also historically known as the Isthmus of Darien (), is the narrow strip of land that lies between the Caribbean Sea The Caribbean Sea ( es, Mar Caribe; french: Mer des Caraïbes; ht, Lamè Kara ...
. In both cases, there is no complete separation of these landmasses by water (disregarding the
Suez Canal The Suez Canal ( ar, قَنَاةُ ٱلسُّوَيْسِ, ') is an artificial sea-level Mean sea level (MSL) (often shortened to sea level) is an mean, average level of the surface of one or more of Earth's bodies of water from which hei ...
and
Panama Canal The Panama Canal ( es, Canal de Panamá, link=no) is an artificial waterway in Panama that connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean and divides North and South America. The canal cuts across the Isthmus of Panama and is a Channel ( ...

Panama Canal
, which are both narrow and shallow, as well as man-made). Both of these
isthmus An isthmus ( or ; plural: isthmuses or isthmi; from grc, ἰσθμός, isthmós, neck) is a narrow piece of land connecting two larger areas across an expanse of water by which they are otherwise separated. A tombolo is an isthmus that consist ...

isthmus
es are very narrow compared to the bulk of the landmasses they unite. North America and South America are treated as separate continents in the seven-continent model. However, they may also be viewed as a single continent known as
America The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US), or America, is a country primarily located in North America North America is a continent entirely within the Northern Hemisphere and almost all ...

America
. This viewpoint was common in the United States until
World War II World War II or the Second World War, often abbreviated as WWII or WW2, was a that lasted from 1939 to 1945. It involved —including all of the great powers—forming two opposing s: the and the . In a total war directly involving m ...
, and remains prevalent in some Asian six-continent models. The single American continent model remains the more common view in France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Spain, and Latin American countries. The criterion of a discrete landmass is completely disregarded if the continuous landmass of Eurasia is classified as two separate continents (Europe and Asia). Physiographically, Europe and the Indian subcontinent are peninsulas of the Eurasian landmass. However, Europe is widely considered a continent with its comparatively large land area of , while the Indian subcontinent, with less than half that area, is considered a subcontinent. The alternative view—in geology and geography—that Eurasia is a single continent results in a six-continent view of the world. Some view separation of Eurasia into Asia and Europe as a residue of
Eurocentrism Eurocentrism (also Eurocentricity or Western-centrism) is a worldview that is centered on Western civilization Western culture, sometimes equated with Western civilization, Occidental culture, the Western world, Western society, and Europe ...
: "In physical, cultural and historical diversity,
China China (), officially the People's Republic of China (PRC; ), is a country in . It is the world's , with a of more than 1.4 billion. China spans five geographical and 14 different countries, the in the world after . Covering an area of ap ...

China
and
India India, officially the Republic of India (: ), is a country in . It is the by area, the country, and the most populous in the world. Bounded by the on the south, the on the southwest, and the on the southeast, it shares land borders wit ...

India
are comparable to the entire European landmass, not to a single European country. .." However, for historical and cultural reasons, the view of Europe as a separate continent continues in several categorizations. If continents are defined strictly as discrete landmasses, embracing all the contiguous land of a body, then Africa, Asia, and Europe form a single continent which may be referred to as
Afro-Eurasia Afro-Eurasia (or Afroeurasia, Field, Henry.The University of California African Expedition: I, Egypt, ''American Anthropologist,'' New Series Vol. 50, No. 3, Part 1 (Jul. - Sep., 1948), pp. 479-493. or Eurafrasia), nicknamed the World Island, ...

Afro-Eurasia
. Combined with the consolidation of the Americas, this would produce a four-continent model consisting of Afro-Eurasia, America, Antarctica and Australia. When sea levels were lower during the
Pleistocene The Pleistocene ( , often referred to as the ''Ice Age'') is the geological epoch In chronology 222px, Joseph Scaliger's ''De emendatione temporum'' (1583) began the modern science of chronology Chronology (from Latin Latin (, or , ) ...
ice age An ice age is a long period of reduction in the temperature of Earth Earth is the third planet from the Sun and the only astronomical object known to harbour and support life. 29.2% of Earth's surface is land consisting of continents and ...

ice age
s, greater areas of continental shelf were exposed as dry land, forming
land bridge Image:Pm-map.png, upright=1.3, The Isthmus of Panama is a land bridge whose appearance 3 million years ago allowed the Great American Interchange In biogeography, a land bridge is an isthmus or wider land connection between otherwise separate are ...
s between
Tasmania Tasmania (), abbreviated as TAS, is an island States and territories of Australia, state of Australia. It is located 240 km (150 mi) to the south of the Mainland Australia, Australian mainland, separated from it by Bass Strait. T ...
and the Australian mainland. At those times Australia and New Guinea were a single, continuous continent. Likewise, the Americas and Afro-Eurasia were joined by the
Bering Land Bridge Beringia is defined today as the land and maritime area bounded on the west by the Lena River The Lena (russian: link=no, Ле́на, ; evn, Елюенэ, ''Eljune''; sah, Өлүөнэ, ''Ölüöne''; bua, Зүлхэ, ''Zülkhe''; mn, З ...
. Other islands, such as Great Britain, were joined to the mainlands of their continents. At that time, there were just three discrete landmasses: Afro-Eurasia-America, Antarctica, and
Australia-New Guinea The continent of Australia, sometimes known in technical contexts by the names Sahul (), Australinea, or Meganesia to distinguish it from the Australia, country of Australia, consists of the landmasses which sit on Australia's plate tecton ...
.


Number

There are several ways of distinguishing the continents: * The seven-continent model is usually taught in most English-speaking countries including the
United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country in . It consists of 50 , a , five major , 326 , and some . At , it is the world's . The United States shares significan ...

United States
,
United Kingdom The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain,Usage is mixed. The Guardian' and Telegraph' use Britain as a synonym for the United Kingdom. Some prefer to use Britain as shorth ...

United Kingdom
, and
Australia Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a Sovereign state, sovereign country comprising the mainland of the Australia (continent), Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous List of islands of Australia, sma ...

Australia
, and also in
China China (), officially the People's Republic of China (PRC; ), is a country in . It is the world's , with a of more than 1.4 billion. China spans five geographical and 14 different countries, the in the world after . Covering an area of ap ...

China
,
India India, officially the Republic of India (: ), is a country in . It is the by area, the country, and the most populous in the world. Bounded by the on the south, the on the southwest, and the on the southeast, it shares land borders wit ...

India
,
Pakistan Pakistan, . Pronounced variably in English as , , , and . officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, is a country in South Asia South Asia is the southern region of Asia, which is defined in both geography, geographical and culture, e ...

Pakistan
,
Bangladesh Bangladesh (, bn, , ), officially the People's Republic of Bangladesh, is a country in . It is the in the world, with a population exceeding 163 million people, in an area of , making it one of the in the world. Bangladesh shares land bor ...

Bangladesh
, the
Philippines The Philippines (; fil, Pilipinas, links=no), officially the Republic of the Philippines ( fil, Republika ng Pilipinas, links=no), * bik, Republika kan Filipinas * ceb, Republika sa Pilipinas * cbk, República de Filipinas * hil, Republ ...

Philippines
, and parts of
Western Europe Western Europe is the western region of Europe. The region's countries and territories vary depending on context. Beginning with foreign exploration during the Age of Discovery, roughly from the 15th century, the concept of ''Europe'' as "the W ...

Western Europe
. * The six-continent combined-Eurasia model is mostly used in
Russia Russia ( rus, link=no, Россия, Rossiya, ), or the Russian Federation, is a country spanning Eastern Europe Eastern Europe is the eastern region of Europe. There is no consistent definition of the precise area it covers, partly becau ...

Russia
,
Eastern Europe Eastern Europe is the eastern region of . There is no consistent definition of the precise area it covers, partly because the term has a wide range of , geographical, ethnic, cultural, and connotations. , located in Eastern Europe, is both the ...

Eastern Europe
, and
Japan Japan ( ja, 日本, or , and formally ) is an in . It is situated in the northwest , and is bordered on the west by the , while extending from the in the north toward the and in the south. Japan is a part of the , and spans of coveri ...

Japan
. * The six-continent combined-America model is often used in
Suriname Suriname (, sometimes spelled Surinam), officially known as the Republic of Suriname ( nl, Republiek Suriname ), is a country on the northeastern Atlantic coast of South America. Borders of Suriname, It is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the ...

Suriname
,
Guyana Guyana ( or ), officially the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, is a country on the northern mainland of South America South America is a entirely in the and mostly in the , with a relatively small portion in the . It can also be ...

Guyana
,
Belize,
Belize,
Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, Elláda, ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in . Its population is approximately 10.7 million as of 2021; is its largest and capital city, followed by . Situated on the southern tip of the , ...

Greece
,
Older/previous official Greek Paedagogical Institute ''6th grade Geography textbook'' (at the
Wayback Machine The Wayback Machine is a digital archive An archive is an accumulation of Historical document, historical records – in any media – or the physical facility in which they are located. Archives contain primary source documents that have ...

Wayback Machine
), 5+1 continents combined-America model; ''Pankosmios Enyklopaidikos Atlas'', CIL Hellas Publications, , p. 30, 5+1 combined-America continents model; ''Neos Eikonographemenos Geographikos Atlas'', Siola-Alexiou, 6 continents combined-America model; ''Lexico tes Hellenikes Glossas'', Papyros Publications, , lemma ''continent'' (''epeiros''), 5 continents model; ''Lexico Triantaphyllide'' online dictionary, Greek Language Center (''Kentro Hellenikes Glossas''), lemma ''continent'' (
epeiros
'), 6 continents combined-America model; ''Lexico tes Neas Hellenikes Glossas'', G.Babiniotes, Kentro Lexikologias (Legicology Center) LTD Publications, , lemma ''continent'' (''epeiros''), 6 continents combined-America model
and countries that speak
Romance languages The Romance languages, less commonly Latin or Neo-Latin languages, are the modern languages that evolved from Vulgar Latin Vulgar Latin, also known as Popular or Colloquial Latin is a range of informal sociolects of Latin Latin (, or , ) ...

Romance languages
. * The
Olympic flag The Olympic symbols are icons, flags and symbols used by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to elevate the Olympic Games. These symbols include those commonly used during Olympic competition, such as the flame, fanfare and theme, as well ...
's five rings represent the five inhabited continents of the combined-America model, which excludes Antarctica. As previously mentioned, some geographers use the name
Oceania Oceania (, , ) is a Region, geographic region that includes Australasia, Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. Spanning the eastern hemisphere, Eastern and Western Hemispheres, Oceania has a land area of and a population of over 41 million. Wh ...

Oceania
for a region including most of the
island countries An island country or an island nation is a country A country is a distinct territory, territorial body or political entity. It is often referred to as the land of an individual's birth, residence or citizenship. A country may be an indepen ...
and territories in the
Pacific Ocean The Pacific Ocean is the largest and deepest of Earth's oceanic divisions. It extends from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Southern Ocean (or, depending on definition, to Antarctica) in the south and is bounded by the continents of Asia ...

Pacific Ocean
as well as the continent of Australia.


Area and population

The following table provides areas given by ''Encyclopædia Britannica'' for each continent in accordance with the seven-continent model, including all of
Melanesia Melanesia (, ) is a subregion of Oceania in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. It extends from the island of New Guinea in the west to Tonga in the east, and includes the Arafura Sea. The region includes the four independent countries of Fiji, V ...

Melanesia
,
Micronesia Micronesia (, ; from grc, μικρός ''mikrós'' "small" and ''nêsos'' "island") is a subregion of Oceania, consisting of thousands of small islands in the western Pacific Ocean. It has a close shared cultural history with three other isl ...

Micronesia
, and
Polynesia Polynesia (, ; from grc, πολύς "many" and grc, νῆσος "island") ( to, Faka-Polinisia; mi, Porinihia; haw, Polenekia; fj, Kai-Polinesia; sm, Polenisia; rar, Porinetia; ty, Pōrīnetia; tvl, Polenisia; tkl, Polenihia) is a s ...

Polynesia
as part of Oceania. It also provides populations of continents according to estimates by the
United Nations Statistics Division The United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD), formerly the United Nations Statistical Office, serves under the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) is pa ...
based on the
UN geoscheme
UN geoscheme
, which includes all of Russia (i.e., including Siberia) as part of Europe, but all of Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Turkey (i.e., including East Thrace) as part of Asia.


Other divisions


Supercontinents

Apart from the current continents, the scope and meaning of the term ''continent'' includes past geological ones. Supercontinents, largely in evidence earlier in the geological record, are landmasses that comprise more than one craton or continental core. These have included Laurasia, Gondwana, Vaalbara, Kenorland, Columbia (supercontinent), Columbia, Rodinia, and Pangaea. Over time, these supercontinents broke apart into large land masses which formed the present continents.


Subcontinents

Certain parts of continents are recognized as subcontinents, especially the large peninsulas separated from the main continental landmass by geographical features. The most widely recognized example is the Indian subcontinent. The Arabian Peninsula, the Southern Cone of South America, and
Alaska Alaska (; ale, Alax̂sxax̂; ; ems, Alas'kaaq; Central Alaskan Yup'ik language, Yup'ik: ''Alaskaq''; tli, Anáaski) is a U.S. state in the Western United States, on the northwest extremity of the country's West Coast of the United State ...

Alaska
in North America might be considered further examples. In many of these cases, the "subcontinents" concerned are on different plate tectonics, tectonic plates from the rest of the continent, providing a geological justification for the terminology. * p. 98: Thus, we can calculate past positions of the Indian Plate, with the Indian Subcontinent as its passenger, with respect to the Eurasian Plate. * p. 116: The Arabian Subcontinent later, approximately 35 million years ago, collided with southern Eurasia to form the Zagros Mountains of southwestern Iran.
Greenland Greenland ( kl, Kalaallit Nunaat, ; da, Grønland, ) is an Autonomous administrative division, autonomous territory* * * within the Danish Realm and the List of islands by area, world's largest island, located between the Arctic Ocean, Arcti ...

Greenland
, generally reckoned as the list of islands by area, world's largest island on the northeastern periphery of the North American Plate, is sometimes referred to as a subcontinent. This is a significant departure from the more conventional view of a subcontinent as comprising a very large peninsula on the fringe of a continent. Where the Americas are viewed as a single continent (America), it is divided into two subcontinents (
North America North America is a continent entirely within the Northern Hemisphere and almost all within the Western Hemisphere. It can also be described as the northern subcontinent of the Americas. It is bordered to the north by the Arctic Ocean, to ...

North America
and
South America South America is a entirely in the and mostly in the , with a relatively small portion in the . It can also be described as the southern of a single continent called (see the ). The reference to South America instead of other cultural ...

South America
) or three (with Central America being the third). When Eurasia is regarded as a single continent, Europe is treated as a subcontinent.


Submerged continents

Some areas of
continental crust 350px, The thickness of Crust (geology)#Earth's crust, Earth's crust (km) Continental crust is the layer of Igneous rock, igneous, Sedimentary rock, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks that forms the geological continents and the areas of shallo ...
are largely covered by the ocean and may be considered submerged continents. Notable examples are
Zealandia Zealandia (prounounced ), also known as ( Māori) or Tasmantis, is an almost entirely submerged mass of continental crust 350px, The thickness of Crust (geology)#Earth's crust, Earth's crust (km) Continental crust is the layer of Igneous ...
, emerging from the ocean primarily in New Zealand and New Caledonia, and the almost completely submerged Kerguelen Plateau in the southern Indian Ocean.


Microcontinents

Some islands lie on sections of continental crust that have rifted and drifted apart from a main continental landmass. While not considered continents because of their relatively small size, they may be considered continental fragment, microcontinents.
Madagascar Madagascar (; mg, Madagasikara), officially the Republic of Madagascar ( mg, Repoblikan'i Madagasikara, links=no, ; french: République de Madagascar), and previously known as the Malagasy Republic, is an island country in the Indian Ocean, a ...

Madagascar
, the largest example, is usually considered an island of Africa, but its divergent evolution has caused it to be referred to as "the eighth continent" from a biological perspective.


History of the concept


Early concepts of the Old World continents

The term "continent" translates Greek , properly "landmass, terra firma", the proper name of Epirus and later especially used of Asia (i.e. Anatolia, Asia Minor), The first distinction between continents was made by ancient Greece, ancient Greek mariners who gave the names Europe and Asia to the lands on either side of the waterways of the Aegean Sea, the Dardanelles strait, the Sea of Marmara, the Bosporus strait and the Black Sea.Arnold J. Toynbee, Toynbee, Arnold J. (1954). ''A Study of History''. London: Oxford University Press, v. 8, pp. 711–712. The names were first applied just to lands near the coast and only later extended to include the hinterlands. But the division was only carried through to the end of navigable waterways and "... beyond that point the Hellenic geographers never succeeded in laying their finger on any inland feature in the physical landscape that could offer any convincing line for partitioning an indivisible Eurasia ..." Ancient Greek thinkers subsequently debated whether Africa (then called ''Libya'') should be considered part of Asia or a third part of the world. Division into three parts eventually came to predominate. From the Greek viewpoint, the Aegean Sea was the center of the world; Asia lay to the east, Europe to the north and west, and Africa to the south. The boundaries between the continents were not fixed. Early on, the Europe–Asia boundary was taken to run from the Black Sea along the Rioni River (known then as the ''Phasis'') in Georgia (country), Georgia. Later it was viewed as running from the Black Sea through Kerch Strait, the Sea of Azov and along the Don River, Russia, Don River (known then as the ''Tanais'') in
Russia Russia ( rus, link=no, Россия, Rossiya, ), or the Russian Federation, is a country spanning Eastern Europe Eastern Europe is the eastern region of Europe. There is no consistent definition of the precise area it covers, partly becau ...

Russia
. The boundary between Asia and Africa was generally taken to be the Nile River. Herodotus in the 5th century BC objected to the whole of Egypt being split between Asia and Africa ("Libya") and took the boundary to lie along the western border of Egypt, regarding Egypt as part of Asia. He also questioned the division into three of what is really a single landmass, a debate that continues nearly two and a half millennia later. Eratosthenes, in the 3rd century BC, noted that some geographers divided the continents by rivers (the Nile and the Don), thus considering them "islands". Others divided the continents by
isthmus An isthmus ( or ; plural: isthmuses or isthmi; from grc, ἰσθμός, isthmós, neck) is a narrow piece of land connecting two larger areas across an expanse of water by which they are otherwise separated. A tombolo is an isthmus that consist ...

isthmus
es, calling the continents "peninsulas". These latter geographers set the border between Europe and Asia at the isthmus between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, and the border between Asia and Africa at the isthmus between the Red Sea and the mouth of Lake Bardawil on the Mediterranean Sea. Through the Roman period and the Middle Ages, a few writers took the
Isthmus of Suez The Isthmus of Suez is the 75-mile-wide (125-km) strip of land
as the boundary between Asia and Africa, but most writers continued to consider it the Nile or the western border of Egypt (Gibbon). In the Middle Ages, the world was usually portrayed on T and O maps, with the T representing the waters dividing the three continents. By the middle of the 18th century, "the fashion of dividing Asia and Africa at the Nile, or at the Great Catabathmus [the boundary between Egypt and Libya] farther west, had even then scarcely passed away".


European arrival in the Americas

Christopher Columbus sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean, West Indies in 1492, sparking a period of European exploration of the Americas. But despite four voyages to the Americas, Columbus never believed he had reached a new continent—he always thought it was part of Asia. In 1501, Amerigo Vespucci and Gonçalo Coelho attempted to sail around what they considered the southern end of the Asian mainland into the Indian Ocean, passing through Fernando de Noronha. After reaching the coast of Brazil, they sailed a long way farther south along the coast of
South America South America is a entirely in the and mostly in the , with a relatively small portion in the . It can also be described as the southern of a single continent called (see the ). The reference to South America instead of other cultural ...

South America
, confirming that this was a land of continental proportions and that it also extended much farther south than Asia was known to. On return to Europe, an account of the voyage, called ''Mundus Novus'' ("New World"), was published under Vespucci's name in 1502 or 1503,Formisano, Luciano (Ed.) (1992). ''Letters from a New World: Amerigo Vespucci's Discovery of America''. New York: Marsilio, pp. xx–xxi. . although it seems that it had additions or alterations by another writer.Zerubavel, Eviatar (2003). ''Terra Cognita: The Mental Discovery of America''. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, pp. 77–79. . Regardless of who penned the words, ''Mundus Novus'' credited Vespucci with saying, "I have discovered a continent in those southern regions that is inhabited by more numerous people and animals than our Europe, or Asia or Africa",Formisano, Luciano (Ed.) (1992). ''Letters from a New World: Amerigo Vespucci's Discovery of America''. New York: Marsilio, p. 45. . the first known explicit identification of part of the Americas as a continent like the other three. Within a few years, the name "New World" began appearing as a name for South America on world maps, such as the Oliveriana (Pesaro) map of around 1504–1505. Maps of this time, though, still showed
North America North America is a continent entirely within the Northern Hemisphere and almost all within the Western Hemisphere. It can also be described as the northern subcontinent of the Americas. It is bordered to the north by the Arctic Ocean, to ...

North America
connected to Asia and showed South America as a separate land. In 1507 Martin Waldseemüller published a world map, ''Waldseemüller map, Universalis Cosmographia'', which was the first to show North and South America as separate from Asia and surrounded by water. A small inset map above the main map explicitly showed for the first time the Americas being east of Asia and separated from Asia by an ocean, as opposed to just placing the Americas on the left end of the map and Asia on the right end. In the accompanying book ''Cosmographiae Introductio'', Waldseemüller noted that the earth is divided into four parts, Europe, Asia, Africa, and the fourth part, which he named "America" after Amerigo Vespucci's first name.Zerubavel, Eviatar (2003). ''Terra Cognita: The Mental Discovery of America''. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, pp. 80–82. . On the map, the word "America" was placed on part of South America.


The word ''continent''

From the 16th century the English noun ''continent'' was derived from the term ''continent land'', meaning continuous or connected land"continent n." (1989) ''Oxford English Dictionary'', 2nd edition. Oxford University Press. and translated from the Latin ''terra continens''. The noun was used to mean "a connected or continuous tract of land" or mainland. It was not applied only to very large areas of land—in the 17th century, references were made to the ''continents'' (or mainlands) of Isle of Man,
Ireland Ireland ( ; ga, Éire ; Ulster-Scots: ) is an island upright=1.15, Great_Britain.html"_;"title="Ireland_(left)_and_Great_Britain">Ireland_(left)_and_Great_Britain_(right),_are_large_islands_of_north-west_Europe image:Small_Island_in ...

Ireland
and Wales and in 1745 to Sumatra. The word ''continent'' was used in translating Greek and Latin writings about the three "parts" of the world, although in the original languages no word of exactly the same meaning as ''continent'' was used. While ''continent'' was used on the one hand for relatively small areas of continuous land, on the other hand geographers again raised Herodotus's query about why a single large landmass should be divided into separate continents. In the mid-17th century, Peter Heylin wrote in his ''Cosmographie'' that "A Continent is a great quantity of Land, not separated by any Sea from the rest of the World, as the whole Continent of Europe, Asia, Africa." In 1727, Ephraim Chambers wrote in his ''Cyclopædia,'' "The world is ordinarily divided into two grand continents: the Old World, old and the New World, new." And in his 1752 atlas, Emanuel Bowen defined a continent as "a large space of dry land comprehending many countries all joined together, without any separation by water. Thus Europe, Asia, and Africa is one great continent, as America is another." However, the old idea of Europe, Asia and Africa as "parts" of the world ultimately persisted with these being regarded as separate continents.


Beyond four continents

From the late 18th century, some geographers started to regard North America and South America as two parts of the world, making five parts in total. Overall though, the fourfold division prevailed well into the 19th century. Europeans discovered
Australia Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a Sovereign state, sovereign country comprising the mainland of the Australia (continent), Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous List of islands of Australia, sma ...
in 1606, but for some time it was taken as part of Asia. By the late 18th century, some geographers considered it a continent in its own right, making it the sixth (or fifth for those still taking America as a single continent). In 1813, Samuel Butler (schoolmaster), Samuel Butler wrote of Australia as "New Holland (Australia), New Holland, an immense island, which some geographers dignify with the appellation of another continent" and the ''Oxford English Dictionary'' was just as equivocal some decades later. It was in the 1950s that the concept of Oceania as a "great division" of the world was replaced by the concept of Australia as a continent.: "...the 1950s... was also the period when... Oceania as a "great division" was replaced by Australia as a continent along with a series of isolated and continentally attached islands. [Footnote 78: When Southeast Asia was conceptualized as a world region during World War II..., Indonesia and the Philippines were perforce added to Asia, which reduced the extent of Oceania, leading to a reconceptualization of Australia as a continent in its own right. This maneuver is apparent in postwar atlases]"
Antarctica Antarctica ( or ) is Earth's southernmost continent. It contains the geographic South Pole and is situated in the Antarctic region of the Southern Hemisphere, almost entirely south of the Antarctic Circle, and is surrounded by the Southern Oce ...

Antarctica
was sighted in 1820 during the First Russian Antarctic Expedition and described as a continent by Charles Wilkes on the United States Exploring Expedition in 1838, the last continent identified, although a great "Antarctic" (Antipodes, antipodean) landmass had been Terra Australis, anticipated for millennia. An 1849 atlas labelled Antarctica as a continent but few atlases did so until after
World War II World War II or the Second World War, often abbreviated as WWII or WW2, was a that lasted from 1939 to 1945. It involved —including all of the great powers—forming two opposing s: the and the . In a total war directly involving m ...
. Over time, the western concept of dividing the world into continents spread globally, replacing conceptions in other areas of the world. The idea of continents continued to become imbued with cultural and political meaning. In the 19th century during the Meiji period, Japanese leaders began to self-identify with the concept of being Asian, and renew relations with other "Asian" countries while conceiving of the idea of Asian solidarity against western countries. This conception of an Asian identity, as well as the idea of Asian solidarity, was later taken up by others in the region, such as Republican China and Vietnam. From the mid-19th century, atlases published in the United States more commonly treated North and South America as separate continents, while atlases published in Europe usually considered them one continent. However, it was still not uncommon for American atlases to treat them as one continent up until World War II. From the 1950s, most U.S. geographers divided the Americas into two continents. With the addition of Antarctica, this made the seven-continent model. However, this division of the Americas never appealed to Latin Americans, who saw their region spanning an as a single landmass, and there the conception of six continents remains dominant, as it does in scattered other countries. Some geographers regard Europe and Asia together as a single continent, dubbed ''
Eurasia Eurasia () is the largest continent A continent is any of several large landmasses. Generally identified by convention (norm), convention rather than any strict criteria, up to seven geographical regions are commonly regarded as contin ...

Eurasia
''. In this model, the world is divided into six continents, with North America and South America considered separate continents.


Geology

Geologists use the term ''continent'' in a different manner from geographers. In geology, a continent is defined by continental crust, which is a platform of metamorphic rock, metamorphic and igneous rock, largely of granite, granitic composition. Continental crust is less dense and much thicker than oceanic crust, which causes it to "float" higher than oceanic crust on the dense underlying Earth's mantle, mantle. This explains why the continents form high platforms surrounded by deep ocean basins. Some geologists restrict the term 'continent' to portions of the crust built around stable regions called ''cratons''. Cratons have largely been unaffected by mountain-building events (orogenies) since the Precambrian. A craton typically consists of a ''Continental Shield, continental shield'' surrounded by a ''continental platform''. The shield is a region where ancient crystalline basement rock (typically 1.5 to 3.8 billion years old) is widely exposed at the surface. The platform surrounding the shield is also composed of ancient basement rock, but with a cover of younger sedimentary rock. The continents are accretionary crustal "rafts" that, unlike the denser basaltic crust of the ocean basins, are not subjected to destruction through the plate tectonic process of subduction. This accounts for the great age of the rocks comprising the continental cratons. The margins of geologic continents are characterized by currently active or relatively recently active mobile belts and deep troughs of accumulated marine or river delta, deltaic sediments. Beyond the margin, there is either a
continental shelf A continental shelf is a portion of a continent A continent is one of several large landmasses. Generally identified by convention (norm), convention rather than any strict criteria, up to seven regions are commonly regarded as continen ...

continental shelf
and drop off to the basaltic oceanic basin, ocean basin or the margin of another continent, depending on the current plate-tectonic setting of the continent. A continental boundary does not have to be a body of water. By this definition, Eastern Europe, India and some other regions could be regarded as continental masses distinct from the rest of Eurasia because they have separate ancient shield areas (i.e. East European craton and Indian craton). Younger mobile belts (such as the Ural Mountains and Himalayas) mark the boundaries between these regions and the rest of Eurasia. Plate tectonics provides yet another way of defining continents. Today, Europe and most of Asia constitute the unified Eurasian Plate, which is approximately coincident with the geographic Eurasian continent excluding India, Arabia, and far eastern Russia. India contains a central shield, and the geologically recent Himalaya mobile belt forms its northern margin. North America and South America are separate continents, the connecting
isthmus An isthmus ( or ; plural: isthmuses or isthmi; from grc, ἰσθμός, isthmós, neck) is a narrow piece of land connecting two larger areas across an expanse of water by which they are otherwise separated. A tombolo is an isthmus that consist ...

isthmus
being largely the result of volcano, volcanism from relatively recent subduction tectonics. North American continental rocks extend to Greenland (a portion of the Canadian Shield), and in terms of plate boundaries, the North American plate includes the easternmost portion of the Asian landmass. Geologists do not use these facts to suggest that eastern Asia is part of the North American continent, even though the plate boundary extends there; the word continent is usually used in its geographic sense and additional definitions ("continental rocks," "plate boundaries") are used as appropriate. Over geologic time, continents are periodically submerged under large epicontinental seas, and continental collisions result in a continent becoming attached to another continent. The current geologic era is relatively anomalous in that so much of the continental areas are "high and dry"; that is, many parts of the continents that were once below sea level are now elevated well above it due to changes in sea levels and the subsequent uplifting of those continental areas from tectonic activity. There are many Continental fragment, microcontinents, or continental fragments, that are built of continental crust but do not contain a craton. Some of these are fragments of Gondwana or other ancient cratonic continents: Zealandia (continent), Zealandia, which includes Geography of New Zealand, New Zealand and Geography of New Caledonia, New Caledonia; Geography of Madagascar, Madagascar; the northern Mascarene Plateau, which includes the Seychelles. Other islands, such as several in the Caribbean Sea, are composed largely of granitic rock as well, but all continents contain both granitic and basaltic crust, and there is no clear boundary as to which islands would be considered microcontinents under such a definition. The Kerguelen Plateau, for example, is largely volcanic, but is associated with the break-up of Gondwanaland and is considered a microcontinent, whereas volcanic Geography of Iceland, Iceland and Hawaiian Islands, Hawaii are not. The British Isles, Sri Lanka, Borneo, and Newfoundland (island), Newfoundland are margins of the Laurasian continent—only separated by inland seas flooding its margins. The movement of plates has caused the formation and break-up of continents over time, including occasional formation of a supercontinent that contains most or all of the continents. The supercontinent Columbia (supercontinent), Columbia or Nuna formed during a period of 2.0–1.8 billion years ago and broke up about 1.5–1.3 billion years ago. The supercontinent Rodinia is thought to have formed about 1 billion years ago and to have embodied most or all of Earth's continents, and broken up into eight continents around 600 million years ago. The eight continents later re-assembled into another supercontinent called Pangaea; Pangaea broke up into Laurasia (which became North America and Eurasia) and Gondwana (which became the remaining continents).


Highest and lowest points

The following table lists the seven continents with their highest and lowest points on land, sorted in decreasing highest points. The lowest exposed points are given for North America and Antarctica. The lowest non-submarine bedrock elevations in these continents are the trough beneath Jakobshavn Glacier, at and Bentley Subglacial Trench, at , but these are covered by kilometres of ice. †† Claimed by
Australia Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a Sovereign state, sovereign country comprising the mainland of the Australia (continent), Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous List of islands of Australia, sma ...

Australia
as a part of the ''Australian Antarctic Territory'', but this claim is Antarctic Treaty System, not widely recognised by the international community. Some sources list the Kuma–Manych Depression (a remnant of the Paratethys) as the geological border between Europe and Asia. This would place the Caucasus outside of Europe, thus making Mont Blanc (elevation 4810 m) in the Graian Alps the highest point in Europe – the lowest point would still be the shore of the Caspian Sea.


See also

* Boundaries between the continents of Earth * Forgotten continent (disambiguation), Forgotten continent * List of continent name etymologies * List of continents and continental subregions by population * List of sovereign states and dependent territories by continent * List of transcontinental countries * Lists of cities * Mainland Australia * Subregion


References


Bibliography

*


External links


"What are continents?"
YouTube video by CGP Grey *
Lost continent revealed in new reconstruction of geologic history
{{Authority control Continents,