How many continents are there on Earth?

In Latin, the word continent means "to hold together," and one of the strictest definitions defines continent as a large mass of emerged land, continuous and separated from the others by waterthat is, the continents would be discrete land units.

However, some of the continents that are usually considered, such as Africa, Europe and Asia, or South and North America, are continuous land masses that are not separated by water, except for artificial canals such as the Panama Canal and the Suez Canal.

This is because the definition of continent in each region incorporates geographical and cultural aspects. There is no single definition of a continent at the international level.

Depending on the country or socio-geographical region of the planet, various continental models with a different number of continents, from 4 to 7 or 8, depending on whether or not they include as continents different parts of the regions known as Africa, America, Europe, Asia, Antarctica, Australia and Oceania.

One of the most used models, called geological model because it is the closest to the geology of plate tectonics, it includes these 6 continents:

  1. South America
  2. North America
  3. eurasia (continent made up of Europe and Asia)
  4. Africa
  5. Antarctica
  6. Oceania or Australian continent

The different continental models

  • 4 continents: America, Afroeurasia, Oceania, Antarctica. It uses the strictest definition of a continent as a continuous land mass.
  • 5 continents: America, Eurasia, Africa, Antarctica and Oceania. The Olympic Rings is based on the "5 inhabited continents" model that separates Eurasia into Europe and Asia, and excludes Antarctica which is not inhabited.
  • 6 continents (traditional): America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Antarctica and Oceania. It is the most widely used model in European countries with Romance languages ​​(excluding Anglo-Saxon and Germanic countries) and in Latin America.
  • 6 continents (geological): South America, North America, Eurasia, Africa, Antarctica and Oceania. It is most widely used in Eastern Europe, Russia and Japan. This model is usually considered as the closest to tectonic plates.
  • 7 continents: South America, North America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Antarctica and Oceania (Oceania is sometimes changed to the Australian Continent). It is the most used model in North America, English-speaking and Germanic countries, and in areas such as Pakistan, India or China.
  • 8 continents: to the model of 7 continents, the continent Zelandia would be added, which would correspond mainly to the islands of New Zealand. It would be a continent that separated from Australia 60-95 million years ago. It is estimated that 93-95% of this continent would be submerged, although still notably higher than the oceanic crust that surrounds it.

tectonic plates and continents

If the socio-geographical definition of continent is highly variable, plate tectonics gives a much more accurate view. Each tectonic plate or lithospheric plate is a fragment of the lithosphere relatively stiff than moves as a block on the asthenosphere and with respect to other tectonic plates.

The tectonic plates are usually classified into two fundamental types, the ocean plates and the mixed plates, depending on the type of earth's crust on these plates. Most plates are of the mixed type.

From a strict point of view, there are no purely continental tectonic plates. For them to exist, the continental plates could not have diverging edges (where the mid-ocean ridges appear). Purely continental plates are possible in phases of convergence of several continental fragments, but in the current geology of the planet this is not the case.

Tectonic plates are also classified as primary, secondary, etc., depending on their size.

Main plates (7)

  1. african plate
  2. antarctic plate
  3. Australian or Indo-Australian Plate
  4. Eurasian Plate
  5. North American plate
  6. Pacific Plate (oceanic plate)
  7. south america plate

Secondary plates (8)

  1. arabian plate
  2. Caribbean plate
  3. coconut plate
  4. Philippine plate
  5. indian plate
  6. Nazca Plate
  7. Juan de Fuca Plaque
  8. scotia plate
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