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___ The Continents of the World

What actually is a Continent and how many are there?

Africa, the Americas, Antarctica, Asia, Australia together with Oceania, and Europe are considered to be Continents.

The term continent is used to differentiate between the various large areas of the earth into which all the land surface of Earth is divided. The 'mountain top' regions of the planet not  flooded by water. This also means the shape and borders of the continents are ultimately defined not by conventions, but in the first place by the level of the surrounding water. More water, less land - other outlines. Even more water, like that stored away as ice in the poles and glaciers, and you might live on a water planet--sorry, no continents.

So, a continent is "a large, continuous area of land on Earth". Actually, all continents together constitute less than one-third of the earth's surface, literally! Fact is, more than two-thirds of the Earth's surface is covered by water. Two-thirds of the continental land mass is located in the Northern Hemisphere (the upper half of the globe, north of the equator). Why is that? This might be just a feature of our current point in geological time. Learn more about that in our next sequel (coming soon after the break).
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The Continent of Africa

The African states, with population figures.
Capital Cities of Africa.
Alphabetical list of the capitals of Africa.
Flags of Africa
The national flags of the countries of Africa.
Languages of Africa
List of African Languages by Countries.
Searchable Maps of Countries and Capital Cities of Africa
Political Map of Africa
Map shows the 54 independent states of Africa.
Map of Africa
Relief Map of Africa.
Google Earth Map of Africa
Searchable map and satellite view of the Black Continent - find any place in Africa.
Political Map of North Africa, the Middle East, and the Arabian Peninsula

The Continent of the Americas

The Americas
The states of the Americas, the population and the capital cities of the Americas.
Capital Cities of the Americas
Alphabetical list of the capitals of the Americas.
Flags of the Americas
The national flags of the nation-states of the Americas.
Flags of the United States
The flags of the U.S. states.
Languages of the Americas
List of Languages of the Americas and the Caribbean by Countries.
Searchable Maps of Countries and Capital Cities of the Americas
Map of Central America and the Caribbean
Reference Map of Central America and the Caribbean.
Map of North America
Reference Map of North America.
Map of South America
Reference Map of South America.
Map of the United States
Map of the continental USA.
Blank Map of the United States
Blank Map of the continental USA.
North America

South America

The Continent of Asia

The states of Asia, the population and the capital cities of Asia.
Capital Cities of Asia
Alphabetical list of Asia's capitals.
Flags of Asia
The national flags of the countries of Asia.
Languages of Asia
List of Asian Languages by Countries.
Searchable Maps of Countries and Capital Cities of Asia
profile Map of Asia
Reference Map of Asia.
profile Map of Western Asia
Map of Western Asia and the Middle East region.
Map of Southeast Asia
Map of the Southeast Asia region.

The Continent of Australia and Oceania

The Australian/Oceanian states, the population of the Australian/Oceanian states and the capital cities of the continent.
Capital Cities of Australia/Oceania
Alphabetical list of the capitals cities of Australia and Oceania.
Flags of Australia and Oceania
The national flags of the nation-states of Australia and Oceania.
Languages of Australia and the South Pacific Islands
List of Languages of Australian/Oceanian countries.
Searchable Maps of Countries and Capital Cities of Australia/Oceania
Map of Australia/Oceania
Reference Map of the Australia/Oceania region.
Australia and Oceania

The Continent of Europe

The European states, the population of the European states and the capital cities of Europe.
Capital Cities of Europe
Alphabetical list of the capitals cities of Europe.
Flags of Europe
The national flags of the states of Europe.
Languages of Europe
List of European Languages by Countries.
Searchable Maps of Countries and Capital Cities of Europe
Map of Europe
Political Map of Europe.

The Continent of Antarctica

profile Map of Antarctica
A physical Map of Antarctica.

profile Satellite View Antarctica
Satellite View of Antarctica using Google Earth Data.
Antarctica image

Moving Land and Oceans

Coastal Zone with coastal plain, continental shelf, continental slope and abyssal plain
Coastal Zone with coastal plain (on land), continental shelf (under water), continental slope and abyssal plain.
Where the land meets the ocean there is the beach. Beyond the beach it gets even more interesting. The beach is a very small part of the Continental Shelf, a wide, relatively shallow underwater terrace that is part of the continental crust. If you move further away you will get to a kind of cliff at the end of the terrace, the continental slope, where the shelf drops down to the ocean floor, you follow the slope and you reach the Abyssal Plain, a vast flat seafloor area hundreds of kilometers wide and thousands of kilometers long, at depths of 3,000 to 6,000 m (10,000 to 20,000 feet).

Schema of the upper layers of earth
Continents are formed when earth's rigid outer shell, the lithosphere, together with the ocean crust and the continental crust, the land where you walk on, glides over the kind of soft, highly viscous and less dense asthenosphere, the hot upper layer of earth's mantle. This process is called plate tectonics.

The Formation of Continents
The formation of continents takes time, long time, it takes millions of years. The various plates of the lithosphere are moving with a speed of 3 to 20 cm (1 to 8 inches) per year relative to each other. The driving forces behind the process of continents to move around across the earth's surface is not yet fully understood. Theory 1: large scale convection currents in the mantle, the heating and cooling of mantle matter develops enough power to move the plates. Theory 2: Plumes, jets of partially molten rock material rising to the Earth's surface at the ocean floor between mid-ocean ridges, adding matter to the crust and pushing the plates in opposite directions.
The various tectonic plates may move apart at oceanic ridges, collide at subduction zones, or slide past one another along fault lines.

Other Continents

Pangaea supercontinent
Possible arrangement of the Pangaea continent

It is assumed that supercontinents have arranged and broken apart multiple times in Earth's geologic past (~ 6,400 million years).

Imagine, recently, about 300 million years ago, during the late Paleozoic and early Mesozoic eras, the world was separated - again, in Land (Pangaea) and Water (Panthalassa). Pangaea was a cluster of most or all of Earth's continental blocks combined in one mammoth continent, surrounded by an ocean that occupied almost 70% of Earth's surface.
In contrast to todays distribution of continents, the larger portion of Pangaea was in the southern hemisphere.

Gondwana and Laurasia

formation of continents animation
The formation of continents as we know.
Anyway, lately, about 170 million years ago, Pangaea began breaking up again, at first in two large pieces. A southern part named Gondwana, that contributed to the formation of the continents of Antarctica, Australia, Africa, South America and India, and a northern part, called Laurasia, which, over the intervening next million years, will form the continents of Eurasia and North America. In the meantime, a continent we know now as India, separated from the southern supercontinent to move swiftly northward just to collide with Eurasia. The impact in ultra slow motion was so fierce, that at the crush zone massive mountain ranges were created, including the world's tallest peaks.
(Further readings: The Earth's Crust on the Move)

'New' Continents

Zealandia is a in large parts submerged continental fragment in the Pacific Ocean that was formerly part of Gondwana, it broke away from Australia 60–85 million years ago. Zealandia is about half the size of Australia. Not submerged portions of the continent are known as New Zealand with its outlying islands, New Caledonia, and some island territories of Australia including the Lord Howe Islands and Norfolk Island. Geologists from New Zealand, New Caledonia and Australia concluded that Zealandia fulfills all the necessary requirements to be considered a continent* (albeit there are only some islands) it would be the world's smallest continent.
* a continent is defined as a large, continuous, discrete mass of land
(Further readings: Zealandia: Earth’s Hidden Continent)

Ocean floor map showing the Mascarene Plateau
Ocean floor map showing the Mascarene Plateau in center.
Image: NASA
The island of Mauritius is geologically relatively young, created by volcanic activity some 8 million years ago. But findings of ancient zircons on the island about 3,000 million years old, far too old to belong to the island, suggest that under Mauritius lies a 'lost' continent. If you look at a map of the ocean floor in that region you will see that Mauritius lies at the southern end of the Mascarene Plateau which looks much like a continental shelf, but without a continent. At the northern end of the plateau is the archipelago of the Seychelles, many of its islands are composed of granite rock which is widely distributed throughout the continental crust.
It is presumed that Mauritia was a small continental fragment, wedged between Madagascar and India that broke away as India and Madagascar separated from Gondwana 85 million years ago. For all searching for speculative evidence it even might be the lost continent of 'Kumari Kandam'.
(Further readings: Researchers confirm the existence of a 'lost continent' under Mauritius)


Map of the Continents
A map showing the world's continents and regions.

map of the continents of the world

How many Continents are there in the world?

 5 continents
We have been taught in school (way back in the 60's in Europe) that there are five continents, Africa, America, Asia, Australia and Europe, for instance symbolized in the five rings of the Olympic Games.

 6 continents
However, there is no standard definition for the number of continents. In Europe, many students are taught about six continents, where North and South America is combined to form a single America.
These six continents are Africa, America, Antarctica, Asia, Australia/Oceania, and Europe.

 7 continents
By most standards, there are a maximum of seven continents - Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Australia/Oceania, Europe, North America, and South America. Many geographers and scientists now refer to six continents, where Europe and Asia are combined (because they're one solid landmass).
These six continents are then Africa, Antarctica, Australia/Oceania, Eurasia, North America, and South America.

Oceania a continent?
Actually, by the definition of a continent as a large continuous area of land, the South Pacific Islands of Oceania aren't a continent, but one could say they belong to a continent, e.g. Oceania is sometimes associated with the continent of Australia.

Olympic Rings Symbol
The Olympic Rings, a Symbol that represents the 5 (inhabited) continents of the world: Africa, America, Asia, Europe and Oceania/Australia.

The rings were designed by Pierre de Coubertin the "father" of the modern Olympic Games in 1912.

The roots of the continents name.

Map of the World by Pieter van den KeereA 17th Century Map of the World by Pieter van den Keere. (click on the map to enlarge)
From Latin "continere" for "to hold together", terra continens, the "continuous land".

A Roman term Africa terra "African land", the land of Africus, the northern part of Africa, a part of the Roman Empire. The Roman name has possibly its roots in the Phoenician term Afryqah, meaning "colony", as transliterated into Roman Latin.

The name America was first used in 1507 by the Cartographer Martin Waldseemüller in its treatise "Cosmographiae Introductio" to name the New World, after Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian navigator who made two (or four) trips to America with Spanish and Portuguese expeditions, it was Vespucci who first recognized that America was a new continent, and not part of Asia.

Latin and Greek origin - the "Eastern Land", it is speculated to be from the word asu "to go out, to rise," in reference to the sun, thus "the land of the sunrise."

Latin - Terra Australis incognita the "Unknown Southern Land", an imaginary, hypothetical continent, a large landmass in the south of the Indian Ocean, the supposed counterpart of the Northern Hemisphere (see: Map of the World by Pieter van den Keere).

Latin and Greek origin. Europa, Europe, often explained as "broad face," from eurys "wide" and ops "face." Some suggests a possible semantic origin by the Sumerian term erebu with the meaning of "darkness" and "to go down, set" (in reference to the sun) which would parallel Orient.

From the French Term Océanie, the southern Pacific Islands and Australia, conceived as a continent".

Old French: antartique, in Modern Latin: antarcticus, in Greek: antarktikos, from anti: "opposite" + arktikos: "of the north".

Other Names for the Continents.

"Latin America", the term denotes the regions of the American continent where Romance languages are spoken like in Mexico, in parts of Central and South America and the islands in the Caribbean; ("Latin" here is used as a designation for "people whose languages descend from Latin" especially Spanish, and Portuguese; see also: Languages of the World).
"New World" for North America.
Occident, (Europe) from the Latin term occidentem "western sky, part of the sky in which the sun sets".
Orient, "the East" (originally, usually meaning what is now called the Middle-East) from the Latin term orientem "the east part of the sky where the sun is rising".
Far East, the Eastern Hemisphere = Asia.
Down Under, colloq.: the term refers to Australia and New Zealand, or Australia alone.


All Countries of the World
Maps of the World