Throughout our lives, we happen to live in different homes. The smallest of them is the body and the largest is Earth. However, between these two extremes, there are different other types of homes. We have our houses, neighbourhoods, cities, countries, and continents.
And continents are what we are learning about today.
Earth comprises three main elements: air, water, and land. Water covers up to 71% of the total area of our planet and the rest, only 29%, is land. This mass of land is yet divided into several other continuous masses called continents. All continents are surrounded by water bodies known as oceans.
As of today, there are seven continents on Earth. The largest of them is Asia. Then comes Africa in second place. Then, there is North America, South America, Antarctica, and Europe. The smallest and seventh continent is Australia.
Wait! If a continent is a continuous landmass, what about all the islands scattered in the world’s seas and oceans?
That is, in fact, a good question.
Islands are areas of land surrounded by water from all sides. When scientists talk about islands, they consider them within the definitions of continents; as parts of them. For instance, Greenland is the largest island on Earth and it belongs to North America. Likewise, the Philippines, which comprises 7,640 islands, is a part of Asia.
Fine. But why are there only seven continents? Why not more? Or less? What makes a continent a continent, to begin with?
Well, let’s see.
Geography Facts for Kids: What is a continent?
We can simply define a continent as a large mass of land. But considering size only as a continent-determining criterion is not just enough. For instance, Russia is the largest country, way larger than Australia. However, it is not a continent? Why is that?
Well, there are no strict criteria that categorise a mass of land as a continent. That said, a continent just has to be large, extended, and distinctive land. It can be surrounded by water but that is not necessary for the classification. There is also no minimum size for large.
Despite that, it is still confusing to identify a landmass as a continent. Europe and Asia are only separated by a mountain range; meaning they are geographically connected as one massively large landmass. Yet, they are considered two continents, not one.
So, until there are accurate criteria that set continents apart from other landmasses, the definition of a continent will be the result of an agreement more than accurate measurements. In other words, we will just have to accept the current seven-continent model of the world.
Discovery of the continents
Before we take you on some interesting adventures about the continents, we must clarify something.
Since prehistoric times, there have been people living on every continent. They were called native inhabitants and they did live in communities. However, not many of them were aware that other communities in other far-distant lands existed too. Some civilizations did know about other civilizations because they had commercial or political relations with them. Others did not.
As humans developed means of transport first by land and then by sea, they started to explore other nearby and far away regions. And whoever had the technology and the facilities was able to go even further and explore unknown landmasses.
On top of those, as we will see later, were the Europeans, mainly the Dutch, the Italians, the Spanish, the Portuguese, and the British. Their expeditions, though having resulted in long-lasting colonisation, somehow influenced the development of the world as a whole and the science of geography in particular.
So in any upcoming context, when we say that a group of European explorers ‘discovered’ some continent, that does not mean the continent did not exist beforehand. It only means they found a land whose existence they were not aware of before.
That said, let’s go on.
The world used to refer to such large landmasses as parts. However, with more continents getting uncovered, the term continent originated from the Latin word terra continent which means continuous land.
Our ancestors were very curious about the world around them. Not just the lands and the waters they were familiar with but also those far, far away. They knew that exploration was the only way to satisfy such curiosity so they saved no effort.
From the dawn of history, humans have been exploring the world around them by moving on land and sailing in the oceans in all directions. Sometimes, they were intended to reach someplace but stumbled upon a completely different and unknown one. Other times they had no plan at all and only sailed in the hopes of finding.. something.
Luckily, all their efforts paid back.
Here is the interesting story of continent discovery
The Old World
In prehistoric times, Ancient Greeks considered the world to be divided into parts that only comprised Europe and Asia. That made sense because these were the only two parts they were very familiar with.
North Africa was also quite well-known to the Greeks and the Romans; but nothing more than that. They even called the entire northern region, excluding Egypt, Libya. Then after thousands of years, the name was changed to Africa—we will see where the names came from later on.
The exploration of Africa started shortly after the Europeans found mainland India in the late 15th-century. At the time, they found out, all of a sudden, how rich India was—and still is. So they raced to take advantage of its abundant resources and open new trade hubs in Asia.
First, they used to travel by land. Trade convoys supposedly crossed Europe, heading east towards the Ural Mountains and then to Asia where they had to go all the way from freezing Russia in the north to India in the south. But that was impossibly difficult, especially after the route had gotten extremely dangerous. As a result, finding a sea route to the Indian land was more of a prerequisite than a luxury.
So the Portuguese volunteered to find such a route. Led by Prince Henry, the Portuguese sailors, followed by many other Europeans in the years to come, started to sail in the Atlantic Ocean, exploring the entire coast of Africa. As they reached the southernmost tip of the continent, they were already in the Indian Ocean across which they sailed east then straight ahead to India.
This route was then known as the sea route to India or just Cape Route. It was given this name because it passed by two places named the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Agulhas in what is now South Africa.
But, finding the sea route to India and opening to the Far East was not enough as the Portuguese got more interested and curious about the dark continent. So they began to explore the rest of Africa, precisely the most unknown part south of the Sahara Desert.
For the most part of the 16th-century, the Europeans went on expeditions to explore the land of Africa. They learned about the African countries, crossed the Equator, and even established colonies on the land that was only a complete mystery a few decades earlier.
Now the world back then had expanded to include a new member. As a result, it became three parts: Asia, Europe, and Africa.
The New World
Around the same time when the Portuguese were trying to find the Cape Route to India, one man was determined to make history by some other means. At the end of the 15th-century, Italian Explorer Christopher Columbus was sure there was a western water route from Europe to India instead of the eastern way of Cape Route.
So four times in 1492, 1493, 1498, and 1502, Columbus set sail west from Spain across the Atlantic Ocean, holding his conviction of finding this western route deep down in his heart side by side with the hope not to turn out mistaken.
Nevertheless, Columbus was mistaken. He did not reach India. Instead, he stumbled upon a new land that no one except its own inhabitants knew existed. Christopher Columbus landed on the American coast and brought the Americas to the awareness of the Europeans.
Ironically, Columbus himself was not aware of that. He only thought he had reached Asia.
Now comes the most important question: Did Columbus really discover both Americas?
Well, that is a good question. In his first expedition in 1492 and after only two months since he cast off, Columbus made a sighting of land—which is now an island in the Bahamas. He set foot on the island and claimed it for Spain, just like when somebody coincidently finds a 10-euro note and decides it belongs to them!
Later on, Columbus sighted and landed on many other islands in the Caribbean Sea. He thought two of them were China and Japan. Then, he collected as many riches from these lands as he could and sailed back to Spain. Upon his return, Columbus was greeted like a victorious hero for finding the eastern continent of Asia which turned out not to be that far from Europe anyway!
However, Columbus knew down in his heart that none of the lands he explored so far was India. So he went on a second expedition and then a third one in the same decade. He explored more lands in the Caribbean Sea, desperately trying to find a passage to India.
The Italian explorer kept roaming the Caribbean Sea, landing on Panama and Jamaica as well as a few other islands. On August 1st, 1498, Columbus reached the northern tip of South America—precisely what is now Venezuela—and made landfall. And that was it.
Columbus did go on a fourth voyage in 1502 to explore more land, hoping in despair to come across the never-to-be-found India. Unfortunately, that never happened. And the bold explorer then passed away in 1506.
Winding up, all Columbus did was explore the Caribbean islands and reach South America. That is no underestimation of his great achievement. However, Columbus has been taking credit for finding both Americas while he never actually made any sightings neither did he ever hear of North America.
It was another explorer who made it to North America.
Finding North America
While Columbus was going back and forth on expeditions between Spain and the Caribbean islands, roaming the Caribbean Sea, thinking he had already reached Asia, and searching in vain for India, somebody else came across North America.
Italian Navigator John Cabot set off from the port of Bristol in England and sailed west on one ship across the Atlantic Ocean. He too was trying to find a shorter route to Asia. Like Columbus, he never made it to Asia. But instead, he reached the east coast of Canada in 1497.
More than twenty-five years later, a third Italian explorer called Giovanni da Verrazzano explored the east coast from what is now Florida in the USA to Newfoundland in Canada in 1524. Later on, more and more voyages from different other European countries took off to explore the new land of North America.
Now that we learned about the navigators who opened the way for the European exploration and later colonisation of both Americas, we can fairly say that if it were not for them, the 35 countries of both Americas might not have come into existence.
That said, there is still an inevitably nagging question. Were those Italian explorers the first people to ever reach the New World?
Well, no. Not really.
Attribution to the Vikings
For some reason, history seems to beat the drum for Columbus for finding the Americas without giving much credit to those who risked their lives for exploring the likely world beyond the Atlantic Ocean.
But just like Columbus never reached North America, the two Italian explorers we mentioned in the last section were not the first to reach North America.
By the end of the first millennium and around 500 years already before Columbus set off for India, Viking Explorer Leif Eriksson is believed to be the first to have set foot on the North American continent.
Eriksson was born in Iceland in 970. His father, who was also an explorer, was expelled from Iceland when Eriksson was 15 years old for killing his neighbour. The father thereby went to Greenland and established the first European colony there.
Growing up in a family of explorers, Eriksson became an explorer himself. At the age of 30, he sailed from Greenland to Norway where his ancestors had originally come from. On his way back to Greenland, Eriksson made sighting of North America; however, it is how he ended up there that is controversial. Two legends tell different stories.
The first is the Icelandic Legend “Saga of Erik the Red”. It claims that Eriksson had lost his way home while returning from Norway. So instead, he sailed across the Atlantic Ocean, completely drifting away from Greenland until he saw land which happened to be North America.
On other hand, the “Saga of the Greenlanders” proposes that Eriksson’s expedition to North America was more deliberate than coincidental. The Viking navigator sailed to North America, which he was sure was there, after he had heard about it from the Norse-Icelandic Explorer Bjarni Herjólfsson. The latter claimed he once sailed across the Atlantic Ocean until he sighted the coast of North America in 986. However, he did not make landfall.
So according to the Saga of the Greenlanders, Bjarni Herjólfsson was technically the first to come across North America.
Regardless of which legend is true, both result in Leif Eriksson sailing to the same new land. He first arrived at what is now likely to be Baffin Island in North Canada. Then his crew and he sailed south, passing by Labrador and then Newfoundland. There, they set up a base and spent the entire winter season which happened to be way milder than the freezing winter of Greenland.
📌 Sometimes the terms the Norse and the Vikings are used interchangeably to refer to the Germanic people who lived in Scandinavia in the past, which is now Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. There is a slight difference between both nonetheless. The Norse represented the people who were traders whilst the Vikings were farmers who were also occasional warriors.
So in short, the European exploration of North and South Americas goes like this. First, Norse Explorer Bjarni Herjólfsson sighted North America in 986 without landing on it. Then, somewhere in the early 11th-century, Viking Explorer Leif Eriksson reached North Canada and made landfall in Newfoundland.
In the late 15th-century, Italian Navigator Christopher Columbus came across and landed on a handful of Caribbean islands. In August 1498, Columbus landed in Venezuela of South America.
In the early 16th-century, the Italians John Cabot and Giovanni da Verrazzano explored the east coast of North America from Florida to Newfoundland.
Having said that, there definitely were tens or maybe hundreds of other European expeditions that explored the two American continents. However, the recently mentioned expeditions were the most remarkable.
The newly discovered lands were subsequently added to the list and the world by then was made of five parts.
Interestingly, Europe, Asia, and Africa were considered the Old World while North and South Americas were referred to as the New World. Such a classification was in use up until the end of the 19th-century.
Then came Australia into global awareness
For long periods during the prehistoric times, the Romans believed there was another mass of land in the south but they knew nothing about it. They did not try to explore it nor had they had the capability of that, to begin with. They called it Terra Australia Incógnita, which in Latin literally means the Unknown Southern Land, and hoped someone in the future would be able to fulfil the quest for it.
Centuries later, one person could prove the Romans true.
Similar to Columbus, the Dutch Explorer Willem Janszoon discovered the already-existing southern land of Australia in 1606 by chance. His story began in the early 17th-century.
Precisely on December 18th, 1603, Willem Janszoon left the Netherlands as the captain of a ship named Duyfken or the Little Dove. It was one of a dozen other ships that sailed to the Dutch East Indies—these were Dutch colonies in the islands and coastlands of Indonesia. At the time, Janszoon was an officer and had already been to the East Indies twice before.
In November 1605, the Little Dove with Captain Janszoon was ordered to sail east in the hopes of finding new trade outlets in the eastern and southern lands, precisely the islands of New Guinea.
Luckily, Janszoon reached the western coast of New Guinea and then sailed across the Arafura Sea into the Gulf of Carpentaria. He made a sighting of the Australian land, kept sailing around its north coast and made it into the Strait of Torres. Thinking that this new land was just a southern extension of New Guinea in the north, he made landfall on mainland Australia in late February 1606, possibly in what is now Cape York.
Sadly, the new mistaken land was swampy and the people who lived there were pretty unwelcoming and rather aggressive. They even killed some of Janszoon’s men. So the Dutch explorer left a few months later after naming the land he thought was a part of New Guinea, New Holland.
Time went by and in 1768, the British Admiralty ordered Navy Captain James Cook to sail across the Pacific Ocean to achieve two goals. The first goal was to observe and record the transit of Venus across the Sun’s disc. Such an observation would help astronomers back then to calculate the distance between the Sun and the Earth.
Secondly, Cook had to search for the Terra Australia Incógnita or the Unknown Southern Land. This was Cook’s first voyage.
Captain Cook could observe the transit of Venus but such a record was unfortunately pretty inaccurate. Not sure whether or not he achieved the first goal, Cook went on anyway to achieve the second goal on his list.
In order to find the unknown land, Cook sailed first to New Zealand—it was already known to the world by this time having been already discovered in 1642. The British captain then moved around its entire coast to draw a map of it. Well, he was a cartographer too.
When Cook was done with the map of New Zealand, he sailed west until he reached the southeastern coast of Australia. He explored the entire eastern coast from south to north then crossed the narrow Strait of Torres which Janszoon arrived at more than a century before.
Cook then drew a map of the entire east coast of Australia and decided it belonged to England, just like any regular coloniser would do.
On April 29th, 1770, Cook and his crew landed on mainland Australia.
Less than twenty years after that, precisely in 1788, the British ships began to arrive, fleet after fleet, starting long-lasting colonisation of the south now-known land of Australia that would take up to 1901 to end.
And the world welcomed a new continental member.
The early discovery of Antarctica is believed to have been made while Cook was already searching for Australia.
After Cook claimed the Australian east coast to the British Crown, he went back to England and brought his maps along. He deeply believed the charts of the eastern coast stood as strong evidence of the existence of the Unknown Southern Land since such a coast was large enough to be of a continent.
Nevertheless, geographers at the Royal Society did not consider this large coast as being of the southern land they were looking for; that what Cook explored was not the Unknown Southern Land. They argued that it still lied more to the south.
Consequently, James Cook was sent on a second voyage to sail more to the south and find the mysterious land which he had already found. The captain; thus, sailed to the southernmost point man could ever reach at the time. That resulted in him entering the Antarctic Circle.
In January 1773, Cook came as close as 120 km to the coast of Antarctica. However, he was compelled to sail back when he was faced with a field of ice that could have blocked his ship. After crossing the Antarctic Circle twice more in the same year, Cook was convinced a southern continent existed. He believed he had seen parts of it—almost referring to the ice fields—as stated in his very own journal.
No expeditions to explore the polar continent were recorded until almost 50 years later. Yet, many other expeditions that were mainly hunting seals—called sealers—did reach closer points to Antarctica than that reached by Cook.
That said, there is a dispute over who made the first sighting of Antarctica. Some state that Russian Captain Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen from the Imperial Russian Navy could see the Antarctic ice shelf on January 27, 1820, during the expedition he was already leading to find Antarctica.
On the other hand, it has been widely believed for a long time that it was British Captain Edward Bransfield who first saw the continent on January 30, 1820, already three days after the Russian captain made sighting of the ice shelf. Conversely, an American sealing expedition was in those waters at about the same time and may have also been the first to see the continent.
Exploration expeditions which had been cast off from France, the USA, and Great Britain continued and many claims of sighting and landing were made. However, the first confirmed landing on Antarctica was made in 1895 by a Swedish-Norwegian ship called the Antarctic which was originally built to hunt whales.
A Stop at New Zealand
Now that we learned how the continents were discovered, there is a point we must clarify.
As we previously mentioned, explorers were already familiar with New Zealand at the time they were searching for Australia. Thanks to the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman, New Zealand was first introduced to the Europeans in 1642. It was also named after Zeeland which is a province in the southwest of the Netherlands.
Besides New Zealand, there were other islands in the Pacific Oceans such as New Guinea, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands which explorers were also familiar with before coming across Australia.
The question here is: which continent do all those islands belong to? Given that Australia in and of itself is an independent continent, could they fit with it? Or are they a part of Asia?
Well, not exactly.
Here is another moment when the rules of geography do not quite apply, resulting in a good deal of confusion.
To split the dispute about where New Zealand and the other Pacific islands belong to, the concept of Oceania came up. Oceania is the geographical region which includes Australia, New Zealand, and thousands of neighbouring islands. The total area of such a region is 8,525,989 km2 and it comprises 14 countries.
So technically, New Zealand does not belong to any continent, though it is a part of Oceania.
Some people and resources like to refer to Oceania as a continent but that does not make it the eighth continent. Since it still includes Australia, it kind of takes Australia’s place in the continental model, being the seventh.
How did the continents get their names?
Previously on learningmole.com, we learned that the planets were named after Roman gods and goddesses except for Earth which only means land. Every name was chosen based on a certain common criterion between the god and the planet.
For instance, Mercury was the fastest messenger among gods. So Mercury became the name of the fastest planet in the Solar System to complete one revolution around the Sun—Mercury’s year is only 88 Earth days.
So is it the same case with continents?
Well, let’s see.
To say it straight, it is not really known how Europe got its name, but there are multiple theories anyway.
Theory one suggests that the name Europe came from the Greek goddess Europa. However, in what way Europe, the continent, resembles Europa, the goddess is a question still unanswered.
Theory two claims that the name Europe originated from the word erebu in the now-extinct Akkadian language that was spoken in western Asia from the third to the first millennium BCE. Erebu means ‘sunset’. And from the Asian perspective, the Sun descended on Europe. Makes sense.
A third, more common theory, however, proposes the name Europe is a combination between the Greek words eurys and ops which mean wide and eye respectively. Thus, Europe would mean something like wide-gazing which properly described the broad shoreline of Europe seen by the Greek sailors from their shipboards.
We mentioned before that the Greeks were the first to think of the world as parts primarily comprising Europe and Asia. In the same way as Europe might mean sunset being to the west, Asia also had a similar naming theory.
The name Asia is believed to come from the word asu in the same Akkadian language meaning sunrise. With Asia being to the east of Greece, it is where the Sun rises. Though making sense, it is still just a theory.
As we previously discussed, the Greeks were familiar with North Africa but did not quite know anything about the rest of the continent. They considered Egypt, east of the River Nile, a part of Asia and named the rest of the northern region Libya.
The name Libya came from the ancient Egyptian word Lebu or Lbou which was then used to refer to the Berber tribes who lived in that region. So the Greeks adopted the name and called the Berbers ‘Libyans’.
Besides Libya, the African continent was also called Guinea, Sudan, or Aethiopia over the past two millennia. Nowadays, all these names refer to African countries.
Still, where did the term Africa come from?
Like with the names of Europe and Asia, the origin of and the reason for calling the third continent Africa is still uncertain. The most acceptable theory claims that it was the Romans who came up with the name Africa.
When the Romans crossed the Mediterranean Sea and came across what is now Tunisia, it was inhabited by a Berber tribe called ‘Afri’. So they used the term Africa to refer to the land of the Afri.
That said, all such names were only given to North Africa. However, how the name was later given to the entire continent is also still unknown.
The continents of the New World did have different names given to them by their native inhabitants who had lived there for thousands of years. Some called North America ‘Turtle Island’. People who lived in Colombia referred to the Americas as ‘Abya Yala’ which means the Continent of Life.
Then after the arrival of Columbus and later the Europeans, many of those native names were either lost or discarded. And then both lands were called America.
So where did this name come from?
Well, that does make an interestingly strange story. It might make sense to say that Columbus was the one who named the land he discovered. But he was not. Instead, it was the German Cartographer Martin Waldseemüller.
When Waldseemüller drew the map of the new continents, he decided, for some reason, to name them after the Italian Merchant Amerigo Vespucci. No one knows for sure what was so special about that merchant that the New World would be named after him. After all, he was just one of the thousands of Europeans who travelled to the newly discovered land in the early 16th-century.
Maybe there is more into the story than the Internet told me. Who knows!
Unlike all the cases with the previously mentioned continents, it is quite certain where the name Australia originated from and why it was given to the land in the south.
After Dutch Explorer Willem Janszoon discovered mainland Australia, it was given the name ‘New Holland’ in the same way as the British named the now-famous city on the American east coast ‘New York’.
Then after British Explorer James Cook claimed the Australian east coast to the British Crown, he named it New South Wales. In the early 19th-century, another explorer from England called Mathew Flinders suggested renaming the eastern coast ‘Australia’, meaning the land in the south. Later on, the name was given to the entire landmass.
Interestingly, the name Australia somehow proposes that there is no other land in the south but Australia. Little did they know.
Antarctica is the region that surrounds the south pole. Similarly, the Arctic surrounds the north pole. Besides both being opposite to one another, their names are also very expressive of their nature.
The Arctic is a term derived from the Greek word arktos which means bear—as in the animal. The name was chosen for the north pole for two reasons. First, in the north pole, there is a group of stars that form a recognizable bear shape and it is always visible in the sky. This is called the Ursa Major constellation.
Second, the north pole is home to the polar bear.
Now, Antarctica means the exact opposite for the exact same reason. The word ‘Antarctica’ literally means no bears. And the southernmost polar continent has no bears, not in the sky, not on land.
But it has penguins. Lots of them.
How did continents form?
Now that we know how continents were discovered and where they got their names, it is time to learn how they actually came into existence.
To understand how continents formed, we need to go as far back as the formation of the Earth itself. We learned before on learningmole.com that the Solar System formed after a collapse of a giant molecular cloud made of hydrogen and helium. Such a collapse left behind enormous amounts of gas and dust that were attracted to each other and formed the planets, billions of asteroids, and other space objects.
And hence Earth, our rocky home, was born.
In the beginning, the Earth was very hot. As the heat was escaping into space, the planet started to gradually cool down. The surface of the Earth was the first to cool down and hence solidified, forming the crust. That is the thin outermost layer of the Earth. The levels beneath the crust were less cool and less rigid. The deeper it gets, the hotter and less solid/more fluid the Earth becomes.
According to those different levels of rigidness and hotness, the Earth developed three different layers. The core, classified into inner and outer, is the hottest and the most fluid layer. The temperature of that boiling core ranges between 4,400°C and 6000°C. That is the same temperature as the surface of the Sun! All the material in the core is moving and pushing out just like steam in a boiling teapot.
Above the core is the mantle which is almost rigid and bulky. The mantle is floating on the hot moving core and has a thickness of 2,900 km. On top of the mantle is the crust which is the thinnest, most solid, and the coolest layer of them all. The crust, often referred to as the lithosphere, is 25-100 km deep and is made of rocks and minerals.
The lithosphere itself is not one big, thin shell. It is cracked into pieces exactly like a cracked boiled egg. Each piece is called a plate. There are different types of boundaries between these plates. Sometimes they are called ridges, as in narrow hilltops, or trenches if they are narrow ditches.
It might not be known for sure why the lithosphere cracked into plates. Some scientists theorise that after the crust cooled down and solidified, it heated up again for some reason. This caused it to expand so much to the point it broke down.
In short, the Earth’s lithosphere is now a division of seven major plates separated from other 14 minor plates.
Nevertheless, the world as we know it now is not just a smooth thin crust. There are hills, mountains, islands, and many others. Where did all those come from?
Well, this takes us to an interesting concept of geology: supercontinents.
Geography Facts for Kids: Supercontinents
We have just mentioned that Earth has three layers: core, mantle, and crust. The surface of the mantle that is the closest to the crust has a temperature of 1000°C. On the other hand, the deepest layer which is the closest to the boiling core has a much higher temperature; 3,600°C.
This very layer then heats up, causing the rocks to melt and get lighter. Lighter rocks go up in the mantle while cooler rocks sink. Then the molten, lighter rocks now at the top cool down while the cooler rocks that sank, melt. As a result, they replace each other; cool rocks go down, and hot, molten rocks go up. This continuous movement of the mantle is a process called convection currents.
Convection currents exert a huge driving force on the plates—the cracked crust—causing them to drift and move. The moving plates are called tectonic plates.
Scientists believe that the Earth was completely covered with water around four billion years ago. While tectonic plates under the water moved and collided, the collision force made them go beneath one another. This is a geological process known as subduction.
As the tectonic plates subducted, making one edge of a plate go deeper into the Earth to the hot mantle, it melted and turned into magma. Magma is superhot liquid rock that is beneath the surface of the Earth. And since magma is lighter than rocks, it rose through the upper plates and burst out of the crust as lava.
When the lava cooled down, it became solid rocks. Scientists refer to such solid rocks as igneous rocks.
Eventually, islands enlarged and joined forming larger masses of land. As the tectonic activity continued, the moving plates beneath the islands caused them to move too, allowing more and more landmasses to join them.
As a result, one huge, super-large continent, a supercontinent, was formed.
Geologists came to this conclusion after studying the geological records of the Earth. They even proposed that there had been not one but a total of seven supercontinents that joined and fragmented by the tectonic activity over millions of years.
According to scientists, the first supercontinent, referred to as Vaalbara, formed 3.6 billion years ago and broke apart 2.8 billion years ago.
Six more supercontinents formed and fragmented over a period of 3.3 billion years. Scientists called them Ur, Kenoraland, Columbia or Nuna, Rodinia, Pannotia, and Pangaea, being born and dying all in chronological order from 2.8 billion years ago to 336 million years ago.
The last supercontinent, Pangaea, was formed 336 million years ago. It stayed as one super large landmass for 161 million years then started to separate into the seven continents that we are familiar with today.
It is worth mentioning here that up until the early 20th-century, geologists were not aware of all that. They knew very little, if not nothing at all, about the tectonic plates and how continents were formed.
It was all thanks to German Scientist Alfred Wegener who started to research that field. Ultimately, he paved the way for the discovery of the tectonic plates which only happened in the 1950s.
Here is his full story.
Geography Facts for Kids: Continental Drift
How the seven continents of today came into existence had been a curiosity-triggering as well as an agonising question for geologists and scientists. But in an academic paper presented in 1912, German Scientist and Geophysicist Alfred Wegener proposed a theory called Continental Drift that explains how continents formed.
Wegener was the first to suggest that all the continents of today were once only one large landmass, a supercontinent. He called it Pangaea which is a Greek word that means all land. At some point in Pangaea’s existence, the massive landmass started to drift and break apart into smaller and smaller landmasses.
Such a claim sparked a debate in the scientific community so Wegener provided evidence that supported his theory. He examined fossils of prehistoric animals and plants from different continents and what he revealed was irrefutable.
The first piece of evidence Wegener provided was a fossil of a prehistoric reptile called mesosaurus which looks like a modern-day crocodile. It was exclusively found in both South America and South Africa. And since the animal was found to live in freshwater only, Wegener concluded that there was no way for the mesosaurus to travel through the Atlantic Ocean from one continent to another.
As a result, the mesosaurus must have lived in only one habitat with sources of freshwater like rivers and lakes available around. In other words, Africa and South America must have been one mass of land at some time of Earth’s early history.
What also firmly supported that conclusion is how South America and Africa fit together like pieces of a puzzle. Wegener even found out that both continents almost have the same geology. In addition, Asia is technically connected to Europe and only separated from Africa by the narrow extension of the Red Sea.
Besides the study of animal fossils, the German scientist examined plant fossils, one of which may be considered the most important among all the pieces of evidence he provided. The fossil he found was of a plant named Glossopteris which is a woody tree that used to grow to a height of 30 metres.
Such a fossil was found in all the southern continents: Australia, Antarctica, South Africa, and South America. Due to the bulkiness and the large size of the tree, it would have been impossible for it to have existed in four different lands as far as these continents from one another. That, again, suggested that all these four regions were joined once before.
In addition, Wegener provided many other pieces of evidence about geological and biological similarities the he found between different places in the world.
All such pieces of evidence were correct. However, the only weakness in Wegener’s theory of Continental Drift was that he never explained why Pangaea, the supercontinent, drifted and fragmented in the first place. At the time, no one knew anything about the moving tectonic plates, not even Wegener himself.
That made most scientists of Wegener’s time reluctant to accept his theory. He proposed that the rotation of the Earth might be the reason for land separation but that did not turn out to be correct.
Despite those who opposed the theory, other scientists were in favour of it. So they tried hard to find the driving force that caused the one giant landmass to drift and separate. For almost half a century, those scientists studied and explored the geology of the Earth.
In the 1950s, geologists could finally conclude the existence of tectonic plates. As a result of subduction, the plates moved beneath the crust and pulled the land above them apart. In a nutshell, tectonic plates fragmented large landmasses.
Wegener’s Continental Drift theory was widely accepted in 1960. Sadly, the German scientist could not witness such a victory moment for he had already died 30 years before that.
Scientists then used the same tectonic plate movement theory to propose how Pangaea and other older supercontinents formed in the first place, which we explained a section ago.
Tectonic plates drift at a speed of a few centimetres every year. Maybe that is why it took millions and millions of years for supercontinents to form and then break apart. Nowadays, tectonic plates move at an average speed of 10 cm/year. In some areas, the plates are faster and in others, they are slower.
That means tectonic plates can move 100 km in one million years.
OK. That proposes a question. If tectonic plates are still moving, does that not suggest all the seven continents of today may join again in the far, far future?
Well, yes. That is possible. Some scientists even predict that continents are going to come together once again in the course of 200-250 million years to come. While we can never be sure whether or not the Earth will survive for that long anyway, one cannot help but wonder what this prospective supercontinent may look like.
Geography Facts for Kids: Continental models
As we had explained earlier, it is commonly accepted that there are seven continents in the world. We have also tackled the criteria based on which a landmass may be agreed on as a continent.
That said, the seven-continent model is not totally, widely accepted. While the majority of countries including the USA, the UK, China, and India already acknowledge it and teach it at schools, others do not.
Some countries like Japan, Russia, and those in Eastern Europe accept the six-continent model in which Asia and Europe are combined in one giant continent called Eurasia. On the other hand, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and even Canada in addition to Greece, Indonesia, and many other countries observe another six-continent model in which North and South Americas are combined into only one large America.
Interestingly, in all the three models mentioned, Africa, Australia, and Antarctica are independently acknowledged.
Now it is time to look into each continent separately.
The Asian Continent
The largest and most populated continent on the planet.
Asia seems to comprise the majority of the diversity there is in the world. It is home to some of the world’s oldest and most distinct civilizations. One example is the Mesopotamian Civilization which is estimated to have flourished in what is now Iraq for around 3000 years from around 4500 to 1500 BCE.
In addition, there was Ancient China, Ancient India, and the Babylonian Civilization which had such a great influence on the world throughout history.
Asia is also where the three Semitic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, were born. As of today, more than 56% of the world population believe in and practise them.
And despite the Asian elephant not being the largest mammal on Earth—the African elephant is—Asia enjoys incredibly diverse wildlife and extraordinary unmatched nature in addition to a super-wide range of spoken languages, unique cultures, strong economies, and mouth-watering cuisines.
So, let’s now break down the marvels of Asia.
Asia is located in the northern hemisphere. In other words, the entire continent resides above the Equator. It is bordered by the Arctic Ocean to the north, the Pacific Ocean to the east, and the Indian Ocean to the south. It has an area of 44,579,000 km2. This is around one-third of the total land area and 8.7% of the total area of the Earth.
Unlike the Americas which float independently between the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, Asia is connected to both Europe and Africa by land and separated from them by waterways.
The Ural Mountain Range, the Ural River, and some tiny other straits stand between Asia and Europe. However, some countries do not actually accept those to be real boundaries. As we mentioned earlier, one of the two six-continent models proposes that Asia and Europe are already one continent called Eurasia.
Asia was connected to Africa by the Peninsula of Sinai in Egypt. Yet, both were separated after the construction of the Suez Canal which connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea.
In addition, the largest continent comprises tens, if not hundreds, of distinctive seas and gulfs.
One of such seas is the Caspian Sea in Iran. It is not actually a sea but rather a lake. It is not connected to any other sea or ocean and is surrounded by land from all sides. Another example is the Dead Sea which lies in Jordan, in the west of Asia.
The Dead Sea is the saltiest sea in the world. One can easily float without having to tread the water. And because of such a high level of salinity, neither fish nor plants live in the Dead Sea. That is why it is described as ‘dead’.
Speaking of freshwater, there are 127 rivers in Asia only! The longest one of them is the Yangtze River which flows through China and has a length of 6,300 km, followed by the Yellow River with a length of 5,464 km which also passes through China.
Well, at least 26 more rivers out of the 127 in all of Asia flow through China. China is a master of all!
There are 49 recognised countries. That means they are members of the United Nations. There are also some other partially recognised and unrecognised states. Russia is the largest country in Asia with an area of 17.1 million km² followed by China with 9.6 million km² and then India whose area is 3.287 million km².
That said, the smallest country is the alluring Maldives which is only 297.8 km². To make it easier to picture how small the Maldives is, consider it like this: 57,421 Maldives would fit into Russia!
In those 49 Asian countries, 4,717,314,718 people are living, making up 60% of the world population. Interestingly, 60.5% of Asia’s population lives in China and India only!
Coming to climate, Asia does comprise multiple extremely different climates due to its large area. They range from super-hot, moderately hot, warm, mild, cool, cold, and freezing.
For instance, the climate in Siberia in the north of Asia which is also in the south of the Arctic is incredibly freezing with temperatures ranging from -20°C to -30°C in different areas in winter.
On the other hand in the south of Asia, the very southern tip of India observes a tropical climate since it is the nearest to the Equator. Contrary to Siberia, the temperature in south India in summer exceeds 40°C and sometimes reaches 45°C.
Asia shares a massive tectonic plate with Europe called the Eurasian Plate. Its area is 67,800,000 km2. In addition to that, Asia also lies on a number of other minor plates such as the American Plate in eastern Asia, the Sunda Plate, and the Burma Plate in Southeast Asia, in addition to the Okhotsk Plate, Arabian Plate, and the Yangtze Plate.
Only for statistical reasons, Asia is subdivided by the United Nations into six main regions. The first is North Asia which is also referred to as Siberia, Russia. Interestingly, North Asia is abundant in fossil fuels in terms of natural gas, coal, and oil.
Unlike North Asia which comprises only one country, the subregion of Central Asia is occupied by nine countries, only five of which are recognized by the UN. Such an area proposes more diversity especially in culture and cuisine despite the obvious mutual influence.
Western Asia is that region bordered by the Red Sea to the west, the Arabian Ocean to the south, and is partially split by the Arabian/Persian Gulf. It is also known as the Middle East or the Near East. The Middle East comprises 21 countries, some of which are only partially located in the region.
More than half of those 21 countries, however, are Arab countries with Saudi Arabia being the largest and Qatar, where the 2022 World Cup is hosted, being the smallest with an area of only 11,571 km.
Like with the Maldives and Russia, almost 186 Qatars would fit in one Saudi Arabia!
The term Indian subcontinent is often used to refer to the South Asia subregion. Such a region includes eight countries. India is the largest of them all and the reason why the entire region is also called a subcontinent.
The Far East is another term for the subregion of East Asia. This is where China, Japan, Taiwan, Mongolia, and the Koreas reside. Over the years, there have been a lot of political tensions among those countries. That is why some of them do not actually recognise the others. That said, Japan, Taiwan, China, and South Korea have four of the strongest and most prosperous economies in the world.
Last but not least, the subregion of Southeast Asia. This section of the continent comprises 11 nations: Malaysia, Brunei, Myanmar, Timor-Leste, Indonesia, Laos, the Philippines, Singapore, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam. Interestingly, until some point in the 20th-century, such nations as well as some parts of South Asia were referred to by the Europeans as the East Indies.
Asia: Time zones
Before getting to the time zones of Asia, we must stop at another interesting concept of geography: longitudes and latitudes.
Longitudes and latitudes are imaginary lines that divide the globe vertically and horizontally, resulting in a grid covering the Earth. Such a concept was invented to help specify the location of any point on the surface of the planet.
The Earth is divided by 180 horizontal latitude lines. The Equator is the latitude that goes right in the middle of the globe horizontally. Above it is the northern hemisphere divided by 90 lines and below is the southern hemisphere with another 90 lines. So technically, there are 181 latitudes, including the Equator.
Likewise, there are 180 longitude lines dividing the Earth vertically. The Prime Meridian is the longitude running in the middle of the globe. On both sides of the Prime Meridian are the eastern and southern hemispheres, each including 90 longitudes.
The Prime Meridian was found to run through Greenwich, a small town in southeast London, UK. When the Sun is at its highest point exactly above the Prime Meridian, the time is noon or 12:00 pm in Greenwich. This is midday.
GMT or the Greenwich Mean Time has been used as a reference whenever talking about the time in other areas of the world. If the time in one country is GMT+2, it means the time in that country, at any given moment of the day, is two hours before/earlier than the time at the same moment in Greenwich. If it is noon in Greenwich, it is 2:00 pm in Sudan.
Now let’s go back to Asia.
Due to its massive size, there are 11 different time zones in Asia, spanning from GMT+2 to GMT+12. In other words, there are parts of Asia that are half a day earlier than other parts of the world whose time zone is exactly GMT.
Take for example, Burkina Faso in Africa and Fiji in the Pacific Ocean. Both are 12 hours apart with Fiji being ahead in time. Meaning, when it is 6:00 in the evening in Fiji on a given day, it would still be 6:00 in the morning in Burkina Faso on the very same day.
More astonishingly, some places in Asia, though being relatively close, are way so different in time. For instance, Fiji and Niue are two islands in the Pacific Ocean. They are only 1,281 km apart in distance and 23 hours apart in time!
Thanks to the roundness of the Earth, the Sun rises in Fiji first then after 23 hours, it rises in Niue. That means Niue is almost a day behind. That also means if someone travelled from Fiji to Niue, they would literally be going back in time. Yes, to the past.
For example, a direct flight from Fiji to Niue takes around 7 hours. If someone travels from Fiji, say on September 1st at 8:00 am, they will arrive in Niue on August 31st at 4:00 pm!
Isn’t that mind-blowing?!
More Asian Wonders
Besides everything we mentioned so far about Asia, the largest continent is quite famous for many other things as well, such as:
- Mecca, the holiest city in Islam
- Mount Everest: the world’s tallest mountain of 8,849 metres
- The Great Wall of China: a 21,196-kilometre fortification built over 2300 years!
- Taj Mahal, the famous white marble Indian mausoleum
- The white tiger, a product of a rare genetic mutation
- The rusty-spotted cat, the world’s tiniest cat
- The Japanese cherry blossoms, manga, and anime
- The first-ever satellite, man, and dog in space (Sputnik, Yuri Gagarin, and Laika, in that order!)
- The world’s most intelligent chess players (all Russians)
- The Mesopotamians who invented writing
- Blue-eyed Siberian huskies
And many many more.
The European Continent
Many people might think that all European countries are too similar, just like the rest of the world mistakenly thinks that all Asians look the same. However, Europe, including every single one of its countries, is quite unique.
Europe is where the great Greek Civilization originated. Through their contributions to philosophy, medicine, mathematics, and astronomy, the Greeks influenced how the world has become what it is now.
Besides, Europe’s fervent middle ages revival in literature, art, economy, culture and even politics have greatly contributed to the advancement of the world as a whole. It is the birthplace of great innovations that were revolutionary at the time though we seem to take them for granted nowadays. Such innovations include the printer, hourglass, clock, telescope, eyeglasses—which were called spectacles back then—compass, magnet, and mirror.
Even the quarantine, which put the entire world on hold two years ago, was invented in Europe.
The Europeans explored Asia and were the first to uncover every other continent. Now the world is paying them back as Europe is the most visited continent out of the seven that make the world. Millions and millions of people flock to Europe yearly to enjoy never-to-forget vacations packed with lots of delicious dishes from a large variety of cuisines and long, long hours of sightseeing.
Here is a closer look at Europe.
Europe is located entirely in the northern hemisphere with some parts of it in the eastern hemisphere. It shares some countries with Asia which seem to be located right on the boundary between the two continents.
Europe is surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea to the south, the Arctic Ocean to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, and Asia to the east.
Unlike Asia which used to be connected to Africa by the Peninsula of Sinai but is now separated from it by the Suez Canal, Europe has never been connected by land to Africa. However, the two continents come so incredibly close at the Strait of Gibraltar that they could almost touch. Such a narrow strait is only 13 km wide and separates Morocco in northwest Africa from Spain in southwest Europe.
And again, unlike Asia which seems to float on multiple tectonic plates, Europe is underlain by only one plate, the Eurasian Plate, which it already shares with Asia.
Europe occupies 2% of the total area of the planet which translates to 10.18 million km2. This area also equals 6.8% of the total land area. Europe is less than a quarter the area of Asia. In fact, the entire land of the European continent is way smaller than that of Russia, the country.
This again proposes the same existential question: why, for God’s sake, is Russia not a continent?
A giant gallic shrug!
Anyways, there are more than 150 rivers in Europe, the longest of which is the Volga River which is 3,530 m long. It originates from the Valdai Hills in Eastern Russia, flows entirely through the country, and discharges in the Caspian Sea. On the other hand, France seems to have the largest number of rivers. The country of the Louvre is already passed by more than 100 rivers!
Apart from the rivers, Europe is also distinctive for the Alps. Such a huge mountain range extends over a distance of 1,200 km crossing eight countries including Austria, Germany, France, Switzerland, Monaco, Italy, and others.
The European continent is shared among 44 countries, 27 of which are unified in a political and economical union called the European Union. Those countries use the same currency which happens to be one of the strongest in the world: the Euro.
Just like in Asia, the largest country in Europe is also Russia. In fact, 40% of Russia’s total area of 17.1 million km² exists in Europe. This makes European Russia also larger than any other country that is entirely found in Europe.
The second-largest country is Ukraine with an area of 603,548 km² while the smallest country in Europe—and the entire world—is the Vatican City which is only 0.44 km². That is only 15% of the City of London, London’s smallest district.
As of June 2022, around 748,513,611 people live in Europe, comprising only 9.5% of the world population. Interestingly, European Russia has a population of 113 million people. That makes only around 15% of the European population but 77% of the entire Russian population. That is to say, more than three-quarters of the Russians live in the European region.
Germany comes in second place with a population of 83,783,942 or 11.1% of the total European population. The least populated country in Europe is the Vatican City where only 805 people live! Ironically, the largest church in the world, the St. Peter’s Basilica, located in the very same Vatican City can fit 60,000 people!
Yet, the Vatican City is visited by more than five million tourists yearly so it makes sense to have a church that big even if the population is incredibly small.
Due to its relatively small size compared to Asia, the climate in Europe does not seem to be as diverse. All countries to the south of Europe enjoy a Mediterranean climate featuring hot, dry summers, mild to cool winters and sunny clear skies. Alternatively, the western part of the continent has more of an oceanic climate with cool and sometimes warm summers and cool, cloudy winters.
That said, the weather in the northern regions is quite different due to being closer to the north pole. Winters are cold, freezing, and snowy with temperatures dropping to -6°C in countries like Norway and Finland. On the other hand, summers in this region are mild but humid with temperatures ranging between 8 °C and 16 °C.
The United Nations had divided Europe into five different subregions with each comprising a group of countries that share some characteristics. There are Northern Europe, Western Europe, Central Europe, Southern Europe, and Eastern Europe subregions.
One might think that just like the North Asia subregion is occupied by only Russia, the Eastern Europe subregion is also attributed to Russia. Well, not exactly. Eastern Europe includes, besides European Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Poland, Moldova, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Czech Republic, and Slovakia—the last two were once one country called Czechoslovakia which was founded in 1918 but split like the Koreas into two independent countries in 1992.
On the other hand, the Western Europe subregion includes nine counties: Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, and Switzerland.
Interestingly, German, French, and Dutch commonly and collectively spoken in nine countries. Some countries have only one official language such as Germany, France, Monaco, and the Netherlands. The rest speak at least two languages with Luxembourg having three different languages and Switzerland speaking up to four languages.
That said, what we have just mentioned is the United Nations classification of the Western European countries. Yet, when looking closely at the map of Europe, we will find that such a classification had excluded the United Kingdom and Ireland.
That is because the UN includes both countries within the Northern Europe subregion. However, in another model of Western Europe developed by the CIA, the Central Intelligence Agency, both the UK and Ireland were included while Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein, and Luxembourg were excluded, for some reason.
Anyways, we will just stick with the UN model here.
The subregion between Eastern and Western Europe is, yes, Central Europe. There has been an ongoing dispute over determining which countries do belong to Central Europe. That is mostly because this region was determined based on some common cultural, social, and even historical similarities.
As a result, many sources have come up with their own models of the countries in Central Europe. Unfortunately, many of the countries mentioned in such models do belong to other regions as well, which does create some confusion.
As a better solution, different contexts completely cancel Central Europe and just divide such an area between Eastern and Western Europe.
Next is the subregion of Northern Europe. The UN classification of such a region comprises Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The last three countries are also known as the Baltic States as they are all bordered by the Baltic Sea to the west.
Mediterranean Europe is another name for the Southern Europe subregion as relative to the Mediterranean Sea coast shared between all the countries in this region. The southern countries include Italy, Spain, Greece, Portugal, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, North Macedonia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Malta, Andorra, Southern France, European Turkey, San Marino, and the Vatican City.
In addition to those countries, there is also Gibraltar. It is not a country but rather a British Territory found in Southern Europe and overseas in the Mediterranean Sea. Kosovo also belongs to the Southern Europe subregion though it is partially recognised and is not bordered by a Mediterranean coast.
Well, it is as unlucky as having no coast at all!
Europe: Time zones
Before we discuss time zones in Europe, we must take a pause at the Summertime Variation concept or the Daylight Saving Time.
Most European countries advance their standard clocks by one hour during the summer. That is called Daylight Saving Time. Once winter hits, the clock goes back to normal again, an hour late. Such a procedure is mostly followed to lengthen the daylight; thus, make the most efficient use of it.
Daylight Saving Time starts on the last Sunday of March and ends on the last Sunday of October every year. That means, the time zone of the countries that apply that variation gets different. For instance, Germany’s time zone in summer is usually GMT+2 but it goes back to GMT+1 during the rest of the year.
So if we exclude that Summertime Variation, we can fairly say that Europe enjoys seven different time zones. They range between GMT-01:00 in the westernmost tip of the continent of Azores, Portugal and GMT+05:00 in the Ural Mountains.
The African Continent
Although it might look like an upside-down boot, Africa is such a remarkable continent.
Unlike both Asia and Europe and actually the rest of the world continents, Africa sadly seems to possess the largest number of mistaken, unfair, and even naive stereotypes. And it is our mission here to break them and give you a glimpse of what alluring Africa is really like.
Despite the global common belief that Africa is a poor continent, it is in fact so abundant with natural resources. This is also, and sadly, the very reason that attracted colonists.
Africa has the third largest lake in the world, Lake Victoria. It is also the source of the disputedly longest river in the entire world, the River Nile. River Nile flows from the Equator all the way through 11 countries and discharges in the Mediterranean Sea.
As the birthplace of one of the oldest and most influential civilizations in the world, Ancient Egypt, Africa is also home to distinctive wildlife that is nowhere else to be found. The African elephant is the world’s largest land mammal and the cheetah is the fastest land animal. Both of them are native to Africa. Lions, giraffes, rhinos, leopards, antelope, hippos, and zebras originate from Africa too.
So let’s dive in more.
Both the northern and southern hemispheres share the African continent.
Africa is the second-largest continent in the world after Asia and the second most populous one as well. It has a total area of 30.3 million km2. This is around 6% of Earth’s total area and one-fifth of the total land area of the planet.
Coming to location, Africa is surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, the narrow strip of Suez and the Red Sea to the northeast, the Indian Ocean to the southeast, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west.
Africa stands on the African Plate which also underlies the Mediterranean Sea to the north and a large section of the Atlantic Ocean to the west.
Africa enjoys a lot of incredibly distinctive physical features. One example is the Sahara Desert. It literally means ‘Desert of the Desert’ because the word Sahara is the Arabic word for desert.
The reason why such a name originated from Arabic is that the Sahara Desert occupies most of the Northern African subregion, that is above the Equator, with only the exclusion of the area around the Mediterranean coast as well as the Nile delta. Arabic is widely spoken in the North Africa subregion.
The large ‘hot’ Sahara Desert is the largest in the world. The word hot is trapped between two single quotations because not every desert is hot. The word desert just refers to any empty, abandoned, almost waterless, and vegetation-less area. It can be hot as the Sahara Desert or cold like Antarctica.
Ok, back to the topic.
The Sahara Desert is tremendously large with an area of 9,200,000 km2. It occupies large landmasses in 10 countries: Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco in North Africa as well as Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Sudan, and Chad in Central Africa.
Despite deserts being famous for their emptiness, the Sahara Desert is surprisingly characterised by its diverse wildlife. There are hundreds of species of birds, some of which are of the migrant type. Besides, multiple animals including frogs, snails, gerbils, and mongooses also live in the Sahara Desert. They are so distinctively adapted to the extreme weather that they can stay in states of deep sleep for years without dying if water is scarce.
As of June 2022, the total population of Africa is 1,402,450,212 which is double the population of Europe. There are a total of 56 countries in Africa, 54 of which are recognised; they are members of the United Nations. There are also a number of other territories and regions; yet, those actually belong to some other non-African states.
Unlike Europe’s relatively small countries, 11 of Africa’s 56 countries have areas that exceed a million square kilometres. The largest African country is Algeria whose area is 2.382 million km²; yet, it has a population of only 46.60 million people. Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa with 216,746,934 people!
On the other hand, Seychelles is the smallest country with an area of 451 km². Seychelles is not actually a part of mainland Africa but it is a group of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean, east of the Somali Sea.
Similarly, Madagascar was originally a country before the name was given to the famous animated movie. Madagascar, like Seychelles, is not a physical part of Africa but a group of islands in the Indian Ocean located around 400 km off the eastern African coast.
Just like James Cook claimed the entire eastern Australian coast to England, many African countries were colonised by and named after European countries. For instance, Algeria while under the French occupation was called French Algeria. Similarly, there was British Kenya and Portuguese Angola.
The oppressively iniquitous colonisation of the African countries lasted for decades. Due to such long periods, the colonising countries imposed their languages. Over time, generation after generation, such European languages were adopted as the main languages of many African countries.
As a result, English is the first most spoken language in Africa, followed by French, Spanish, Portugues, Swahili, and then there is Arabic. Despite that, there are already 1250 to 3000 native African languages still spoken in the dark continent.
In May 1963, the Organisation of African Unity was established by a number of independent African states to fight colonisation and help the different countries gain their independence. It was established in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia.
Now that all the African countries are politically independent, the Organisation of African Unity or the OAU was replaced by the African Union whose headquarter is in South Africa. The new union was established in 2002 to unify the African countries and allow more cooperation and economic development among them.
The climate of Africa is extremely diverse. Due to the continent’s massive size and its existence right in the middle of the globe, the climate ranges between equatorial tropical, subtropical, arid, semi-arid, and desert. Every region has different climate.
For instance, North Africa, where the Sahara Desert is located, has a hot, dry climate with little rain. That said, the temperatures in the Sahara Desert at night drop dramatically and sometimes to below zero.
On the other hand, the northernmost region is characterised by the Mediterranean climate, featuring windy, wet, warm winters and dry, hot summers.
The Central and West Africa subregions have a quite hot, humid climate with heavy seasonal rains. This is called equatorial climate. Although East Africa has alternate seasons of dryness and rains, the weather in South Africa is generally mild.
That said, it does snow on a regular basis in both South Africa and Lesotho.
Africa: Time zones
Just like in Europe, many African countries used to apply the Daylight Saving Time—one hour earlier—which lasts for the months of summer. However, nowadays, only one country, Morocco, still recognises such time variation.
Africa’s vast area allows six different time zones spanning from GMT-1 in the very west to GMT+4 on the easternmost side. Interestingly, these different time offsets are given different names in different areas.
For instance, in most of Africa, GMT+1 is called West Africa Time but the same offset is referred to by its standard name Central European Time in Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. Similarly, GMT+2 is commonly called Central Africa Time while it is known as South African Standard Time in South Africa, Eswatini, and Lesotho.
Egypt and Libya which are both located in a GMT+2 time zone refer to this offset as Eastern European Time. Lastly, the time offset GMT-1 which only applies in Cape Verde, is called Cape Verde Time. Makes sense.
More of Africa’s awe-striking features
There are hundreds of features that characterise Africa. Whether they are physical or cultural, they are all worth learning about. Here is a glimpse of more hallmarks of the dark, alluring continent:
- Victoria Falls in Zambia
- The real Lion King’s Pride Rock in Kenya
- Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania
- The earthly paradise of Zanzibar
- Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda
- The Great Pyramids of Giza, Egypt
- The Atlas Mountains in Morocco
- Constantine, the city of hanging bridges, Algeria
- Cape Town, South Africa
- Spitzkoppe, Namibia
- The stunning coral reef of the Red Sea
- Sahara Dunes, Morocco.
- Kenya’s flamingos
The New World Continents: The Americas
The continents that make up the New World.
Stretching beyond the horizon, floating like a big large barrier between two ocean giants, independent from any other landmasses, and comprising tens of countries are the Americas.
The western continents are quite unlike the rest we discussed earlier. Not only due to being isolated. But, they are different because of the crazy circumstances the two continents underwent ever since they were discovered by the Europeans in the 16th-century.
After Columbus and other explorers discovered the Americas and thanks to the great development of shipbuilding at the time, flocks of European merchants and then regular people started to cross the Atlantic to explore the newly-found land.
In addition, many monarchies such as the British, the French, the Dutch, and the Spanish raced to take advantage of the potential benefits of the Americas. As a result, they sent their armies, built settlements, and aggressively dealt with the indigenous people, eventually killing the majority of them and settling on their land.
As time went by, thousands and even millions of Europeans had already arrived and settled in the Americas. New generations were born, and new communities were established.
Let’s go on and learn more about the modern-day Americas.
The Americas: Geography
North and South Americas are located in the western hemisphere, with the entire north continent including the Caribbean islands as well as five South American countries residing in the northern hemisphere. The rest of South America, however, is in the southern hemisphere.
Both continents are completely separated from the rest of the world by the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. North America is also bordered by the Arctic Ocean to the north. Like Asia and Europe, the two Americas are connected by the narrow curved Isthmus of Panama whose width is around 80.5 km.
That said, North America is neighbours with Asia, thanks to the roundness of the Earth. The two large continents come too incredibly close at the westernmost tip of Wales in Alaska, USA and the easternmost tip of Uelen, Russia. They are only separated by the Bering Strait which is only 88.5 km wide.
Three tectonic plates underlie the Americas: the North American Plate, the Caribbean Plate, and the South American Plate. The latter shares the Atlantic Ocean with the African Plate.
All the islands in the Caribbean Sea belong to the Central America subregion, sometimes also known as Latin America. There are seven countries in that region and it is home to more than 47 million people.
Those islands as well as those around North and South Americas are included within the total area of both continents. Such an area equals 42,549,000 km2. That is around 8% of the total area of the Earth and a quarter of the total land area.
Separately speaking, North America is technically larger than South America. It has an area of 24.71 million km², coming in third place after Africa and followed by South America whose area is 17.84 million km².
The Americas: Countries
Collectively, there are 35 countries in both Americas. Despite the subconsciously common belief that there are only three countries in North America with Canada being the largest of them and South America having more countries, it is actually the other way around.
There are 23 independent countries, nine dependent states, and 16 integral states in North America. Dependent states are countries that have their external affairs such as defence and international relations controlled by other independent states. Meaning, they are not fully politically independent nor are they members of the United Nations. The nine dependent states in North America are controlled by the UK and the USA.
On the other hand, integral states refer to those provinces that are under other countries’ political administration but happen to be far away. For instance, there are 16 integral territories included in the North American continent but in fact, they belong to the Netherlands, France, Denmark, Venezuela, and Colombia.
In South America, there are 12 independent countries, 4 dependent states administered by Norway and Great Britain, and one overseas territory that belongs to France.
Canada is the largest country in both Americas, having authority over a total area of 9.985 million km², followed by the USA with an area of 9.834 million km². Coming in third place is Brazil which is also the largest country in South America. It covers a total area of 8.516 million km².
On the other hand, Sint Maarten which is an integral part of the Netherlands is the smallest country in both Americas. It has an area of only 34 km².
In 2021, the total population of North and South Americas together was 1.03 billion people; 596.6 million in North and Central Americas and 434.3 million in South America. That makes a little more than 13% of the total people currently living on the planet.
The most populous country in both continents is the USA with 332,403,650 people. Brazil comes in second with a population of 215,480,675 people.
One remarkable characteristic of the Americas is the thousands of islands mainland America is associated with. Most of those islands are parts of different counties in the North and South and the rest belong to non-American countries.
For instance, there are around 2,670 named islands in Alaska alone. The adjective ‘named’ may imply that there are many other unnamed islands. Those thousands of islands make Alaska the largest state in the USA. Greenland, on the other hand, is the largest island in the Americas and the rest of the world covering an area of 2.166 million km².
Then, there are the mountain ranges. The most famous mountain range is the Andes. It stretches along the entire west coast of South America.
In addition, both continents are dominated by large, famous rivers such as the Amazon which is the disputedly the second longest river in the world compared to the River Nile in Africa. That said, the Amazon is the largest in terms of water volume and discharge.
Other distinctive physical features include the Mississippi River, St. Lawrence River, La Plata River, the Great Lakes of North America, and the Amazon rainforest.
Due to their large size and the fact of being in both the northern and southern hemispheres, the Americas enjoy quite a diverse climate. For instance, in Greenland, Alaska, and northern Canada, the climate is Arctic or polar due to being close to the north pole. Central America and the northern regions of South America, particularly those around the Equator, have tropical climates characterised by heavy rainfall.
The Americas: Time zones
Vastly-sized continents, as we have seen earlier, observe a wide range of time zones. In the case of North America, there are 11 time zones spanning from GMT-11 in the very west to GMT in the easternmost tip. The USA alone observes nine of those 11 time zones. Daylight Time Saving is also used in numerous areas of North America.
Alternatively, South America, being not as wide as North America, observes five standard time zones from GMT-5 in the west to GMT-2 in the east with one extra time zone of GMT-4.5!
Other remarkable things in the Americas
It would be extremely hard to try to mention the important characteristics of the Americas, let alone the most remarkable hallmarks. However, in this section, we include some incredible features that would make one’s knowledge about the New World even richer:
- Niagara Falls, Canada
- The Grand Canyon, USA
- Machu Picchu, Peru
- Pearl Harbour, Hawaii, USA
- Great Slave Lake, Canada
- Hidden Beach, Mexico
- El Morro Arica, Chile
- Nahanni National Park, Canada
- Iguazu Falls, Argentina
- Polar Bears of Churchill, Manitoba, Canada
- Cenote Xkeken, Mexico
- The Library of Congress, USA
- The Teotihuacan Pyramids, Mexico
The Australian Continent
Australia, the Terra Australis Incognita, the non-southernmost land.
Apart from the remarkable characteristics which we will discuss in a bit, Australia does comprise a number of controversies.
First, it is not connected to any other lands, completely independently floating on the Pacific Ocean; however, it is not usually referred to as an island despite specifying the main criterion of an island: being surrounded by water from all sides.
Some claim that Australia cannot be an island because it is too big although there is no minimum size for big, as we learned at the beginning of this article.
Secondly, Australia was technically discovered after the Americas. For some reason, it was not included within the ‘New World’ category that emerged at the time.
That aside, Australia is incredibly distinct. So let’s dive in.
Australia is both a continent and a country. For some reason, it has not been divided into several countries like the rest of the world’s continents. Although it is the smallest continent, it is the sixth-largest country in the world. It is also the largest country in the Oceania region.
Geographically speaking, Australia is located in the southern hemisphere between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. It is separated from Asia by the Arafura and Timor Seas and from New Guinea by the Strait of Torres. To the northeast, Australia is bordered by the Coral Sea and by the Tasman Sea to the southeast.
Unlike the Americas, Australia does have country neighbours. To the north, there are Indonesia, East Timor, and Papua New Guinea as well as the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and New Caledonia to the north-east. To the southeast, there is New Zealand.
The smallest continent stretches over an area of 7,617,930 km2. Such a large area equals 5% of the total landmass on the Earth and around 1.5% of the total area of the planet. Most of that area is one extended landmass called mainland Australia. The rest is divided into 8,222 offshore islands that belong to Australia too. The largest of these islands is Tasmania Island.
The Indo-Australian tectonic plate is underlying Australia as well as the waters around it.
Despite its large area, Australia is not very populous. There are a little more than 26 million people living in Australia, 90% of whom live on the coast. That is very little, especially when compared to a country like Germany whose area equals only 4.7% of that of Australia but has 3.2 times the population.
Another misconception about Australia is thinking that it is divided into many states due to its large size but that is not true. There are only six states in mainland Australia: Western Australia, Tasmania, and Southern Australia in addition to three others which were named during the British occupation: New South Wales, Queensland, and Victoria, with the last two honouring Queen Victoria of England.
The largest state is Western Australia with an area of 2.646 million km² and the smallest is Tasmania whose area is 90,758 km². There are also a number of internal and external territories.
Though Sydney is so famous that it is sometimes mistaken for the capital, Canberra is the capital city of Australia, located in the southeast of the country.
One of Australia’s most distinctive geographical features is the Great Barrier Reef. It is located around 14.5 to 150 km off the northeast coast. The reef itself has a maximum width of 65 km and stretches over a distance as long as 2,600 km. Having a total area of about 344,400 km², the Great Barrier Reef is already the largest coral reef system in the entire world.
Due to its beauty, the crystal clear water, and the variety of marine life that resides there, the Great Barrier Reef was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981 and is technically considered one of the wonders of nature.
Looking more into it, the Great Barrier Reef is home to more than 9,000 named marine species including six out of the seven sea turtle species found on Earth living in and around 3,000 individual reefs. The very existence of such a large reef system protects the coastline from damage since it stands as a barrier in the face of waves, storms, and floods.
Another feature that might not be very common about Australia is the desert. In fact, 18% of the entire landmass of Australia is desert, occupying more than 75% of the area of Western Australia and different other percentages in three more states.
Collectively, the Australian desert covers an area of 1,371,000 km². Such an area is shared between 10 named deserts. The Great Victoria Desert is the largest with an area of 348,750 km² and the Pedirka Desert is the smallest one, extending for 1250 km² only.
Now moving on to languages.
Less than two decades after James Cook discovered Australia in 1770, the British started their long colonisation of Australia, building the first colony in 1788. Only in 1901 was Australia able to gain independence from the British Empire. Due to such a long period of occupation, English is now widely spoken in Australia.
That said, the government of Australia surprisingly does not recognise any language as the official language of the country. In fact, there are five most common languages in Australia. English is on top of the list, spoken by the majority of the population. It is also the official language in education, commerce, and business.
However, 73% of Australians speak English only. In other words, 27% of the population speak at least one more language. Mandarin is the most dominant, mostly spoken by immigrants at home. Filipino, Punjabi, and Arabic are also used by a portion of the population.
What about climate, then?
Due to being in the southern hemisphere, Australia experiences seasons differently than most of the world. Well, seasons are quite reversed to be precise. For instance, December to February is summertime where temperatures range between 16°C and a maximum of 26°C.
March, April, and May are the months of autumn; with temperatures spanning from 11°C to 20°C. June to August is winter which is as cool as 6°C at minimum and 14°C at maximum. Finally, spring lasts for another three months, September to November, and is quite mild (10°C to 20°C).
Apart from the seasons, Australia does observe quite a diverse climate that is attributed to its vast area. Yet, the most common climatic feature is dryness, surely due to the desert. In fact, Australia is the second driest continent after Antarctica. That means, it receives very little precipitation annually. More specifically, Australia receives even less than 500mm of rain every year.
To measure the amount of rain in a specific area, a rain gauge is used. A rain gauge is a graduated cylinder with a funnel that catches rain. If the cylinder measures 1 cm of water, it means 1 cm of rain has fallen. The larger the amount gets in a shorter period of time, the stronger the rain is falling. For instance, 10 mm of rain per hour refers to very heavy rain. Likewise, 5 mm of rain per year is incredibly light rain, if not even drizzle!
Now you understand how poor Australia is when it comes to precipitation.
That said, Australia does experience several other climatic conditions that vary based on location. A small area on the northernmost edge of the continent has an equatorial climate since it is the closest to the Equator.
Then there is a tropical climate characterised by hot temperatures all year long—sometimes reaching 40°C—with seasons of precipitation and dryness. The subtropical climate is experienced in the easternmost part of the country featuring cool to mild winters and hot, humid summers.
Larger areas of the Australian continent experience desert climate, grassland climate, and temperate climate. The latter is very common in the southernmost areas.
Australia: Time zones
Interestingly, or say confusingly, Australia partially observes Daylight Time Saving. Meaning, some regions such as Victoria, Tasmania, New South Wales, and South Australia switch their clocks one hour earlier in summer. Other regions including Queensland, the Northern Territory, and Western Australia do not apply that time variation.
Apart from that, Australia has time zones that are way earlier than the rest of the world.
The country is divided into three different time zones: Australian Western Standard Time, Central Standard Time, and Eastern Standard Time, each has an offset of GMT+8, GMT+9.5, and GMT+10 respectively. So if the time is noon on the 23rd of September in Greenwich, London, it is 10:00 pm on the same day in Sydney.
More Australia features
Similar to what we did with the previous continents, here are some more interesting features of Australia:
- Sydney Opera House
- Kangaroos, koalas, and quokkas
- Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, the Northern Territory
- The Outback
- The Bush
- The Australian Alps
Antarctica: the Frozen Continent
And now with the final stop, the southernmost landmass, the frozen continent… Antarctica.
Antarctica is unlike any other continent. It is quite distinct by the number of superlative adjectives used to describe it. For instance, Antarctica is the coldest land on the planet. As we will see in the climate section, freezing winters have temperatures with a minimum of -60°C.
Secondly, Antarctica is the windiest place on Earth. That is mostly because of the extreme weather conditions which Antarctica features. Just like the cold air rushes out of the freezer once you open it, the cold frozen air in Antarctica moves so fast. One of the highest wind speeds ever recorded in Antarctica was 200 mph or metres per hour.
Such a speed makes the wind so strong. Normally, a person cannot stand when the wind blows at a speed of 75 mph. A speed of 200 mph can be extremely destructive.
Thirdly, Antarctica is the driest place ever. You may think of it as the Sahara Desert’s cousin. The only difference is that the Sahara Desert is boiling hot while Antarctica is freezing cold. What makes Antarctica dry is that it receives very little precipitation every year.
Remember how rain is measured? Great. In Antarctica, a rain gauge measures a little over 200 mm around the coast and even less than that inland, annually! That is almost equal to no rain at all.
Last but not least, Antarctica is the land with the highest elevation. That means Antarctica has the highest measurement above sea level, just like the Dead Sea of Jordan has the lowest point below sea level. Antarctica records an elevation of 2,500 m on average and 2,835 m at the south pole.
Besides all that, Antarctica seems to possess several other wonders. Let’s tackle them one by one.
Antarctica is the coordinate region to the Arctic or the north pole. It is situated in the southern hemisphere, enclosing the south pole in an area called the Antarctic Circle. The frozen continent is also surrounded by the Southern Ocean.
Have you noticed something? Yes, that is it. Antarctica is surrounded by water from all sides. It holds the first main characteristic of an island. Yet, it is not considered one and only God knows why!
Maybe we should dedicate a whole new article here on learningmole.com to discuss all the geographical controversies.
Anyways, let’s move on.
Antarctica is extremely large, about twice the size of Australia. Stretching for an area of over 14,200,000 km2, Antarctica is already the fifth-largest continent in the world, preceded by South America and followed by Europe. That large area occupies around 2.8% of the total area of the Earth and about 9.5% of Earth’s land area.
Such an area, however, is not one mainland. Though the majority of it is, Antarctica also comprises an incredibly large number of islands—too many to count. The biggest of them is called Alexander Island. It has an area of 49,070 km2.
The Antarctic Plate underlies the southernmost continent. It is so large that it encloses Antarctica and large areas of the Southern Ocean as well.
Like every other continent, Antarctica is land; these 14.2 million square kilometres is landmass. The only difference is that it is covered by an extremely thick sheet of ice. The average thickness of that sheet is 2.2 km and the maximum is around 4.8 km! This is what makes Antarctica at such a high elevation.
That very sheet of ice is the storage of 70% of the freshwater on Earth and 90% of all the ice on the planet. Besides that, there are also up to 700 rivers and streams in Antarctica. There are lakes too.
Strangely, there are volcanoes in Antarctica too. That seems pretty counterintuitive but it is the truth. There might be even more volcanoes than scientists could identify—138 volcanoes have so far been discovered in Western Antarctica alone. These volcanoes are either under the ice sheet or covered with ice.
Many volcanoes are extinct. That means they are almost dead; as in not expected to erupt in the future. That said, there are multiple active volcanoes, some of them are found in a 1.6-million-km2 wide region called Marie Byrd Land in southwest Antarctica. Active volcanoes have recent eruption history and are likely to erupt again in the future.
One of the recorded eruptions of an Antarctic volcano was that of Mount Erebus which is located on Ross Island in the north Antarctic. It erupted once in 1841 and was sighted by British Captain James Ross while conducting surveys there.
This volcano is believed to have erupted many times ever since. A recent eruption was recorded in October of 2005. Numerous equations to be precise, most of which were small and medium with large eruption.
The activity of Mount Erebus volcano is currently monitored by satellites.
Unlike all other continents which had indigenous people since the dawn of history, Antarctica was completely abandoned. It is no one’s land. That is pretty self-justifying since the air itself is frozen in Antarctica.
Consequently, one might think that no one is insane enough to think about immigrating to Antarctica just like millions of people immigrated to newly found continents.
Well, that is not completely true. Antarctica does have some population, even if it happens to be seasonal!
From 1786, British and American sealing expeditions used to sail around the Antarctic Circle, hunting seals. They used to spend over a year on an island in the Southern Ocean called South Georgia. Up until 1966, over 1,000 people and a maximum of 2,000 lived in South Georgia in summer and the number decreased to 200 in winter.
Since South Georgia is 4,739 km off mainland Antarctica, we can say that those sealers did not technically live in Antarctica. Though the island was just as frozen, no one actually lived on the land of Antarctica.
Nowadays, there are permanent human settlements on Antarctica hosting seasonal inhabitants of scientists and supporting staff who conduct scientific research there. Their numbers range from 1,000 in winter to 5,000 people in summer.
Though they stay in Antarctica for a rotational period, the continent is mostly never abandoned anymore. Some of the research stations have staff working all year long. In addition, many tourists travel on vacations to Antarctica during the summer.
There are no countries in Antarctica. However, the continent’s affairs are regulated by the Antarctic Treaty System of 1959. This is a group of decisions and agreements that were signed by 12 countries at the time, including the USA and the Soviet Union. Later on, more countries joined the system.
Those countries collectively share the decision-making of anything related to the frozen continent as long as they conduct important research there. They all prohibit any military or mining activities as well as the disposing of nuclear waste in Antarctica or experimenting with nuclear weapons on its land.
So technically, Antarctica is governed by tens of countries. Seven of these countries including Argentina, Norway, Chile, Australia, and New Zealand have claimed some regions of the continent. They even built settlements there.
We have just mentioned that there had been no indigenous population in Antarctica and the continent is only partially populated by groups of scientists and researchers who work there. Yet, there are other permanent, though inhuman, residents of Antarctica.
More precisely, Antarctica is home to emperor penguins, adélie penguins, chinstrap penguins, and king penguins as well as seals, leopard seals, elephant seals, wandering albatrosses, snow petrels, blue whales, and killer whales—also known as Orcas.
Interestingly, Antarctica has not always been covered by ice, at least until 34 million years ago. Prior to that, it was just land with no ice. But a dramatic shift in climate caused the continent to face extreme cold. Icing started and accumulated for over 10 million years and resulted in the Antarctic we have now.
And because it is frozen, it is normal to think that it is winter all year long. But that is not true. Antarctica also experiences summer, cold summers if that would make any sense.
Like Australia and the rest of the regions in the southern hemisphere, seasons are inverted. In Antarctica precisely, there are only two seasons. Winter and summer, each lasting for six months with winter occupying the period from March to October.
Temperatures in Antarctica vary based on location. Usually, the interior of the continent is colder than the coast. Winter temperatures drop to as low as -60°C in winter. The lowest temperature ever recorded was -89.2°C. It was measured in July 1983. On the other hand, temperatures reach up to 10°C in summer near the coast.
Speaking of climate change, Antarctica has undergone several changes that were caused by both nature-related climate change as well as human-caused global warming. On top of these changes is the temperature rise.
Antarctica is in fact the fastest-warming area on the planet. However, that does not apply evenly to every part of the continent. For instance, temperatures in West Antarctica had risen rapidly during the second half of the 20th-century and then slowed down in the 21st-century.
On the other hand, the East Antarctica subregion which comprises the south pole barely warmed during the 20th-century but tripled its temperature in a course of only 30 years from 1990 to 2020.
Consequently, Antarctica recorded its highest temperature ever in the summer of 2020 which measured 18.3°C. Such a high temperature causes the ocean ice which usually freezes during winter to melt at a higher rate in summer. This warm water destabilises the glaciers and causes them to move even more quickly to the ocean.
As a result, Antarctica has lost three trillion tons of ice since the early 1990s. That is the time when the temperature started to rise regularly. The loss of glaciers into the ocean is both a loss of freshwater and a grave danger to the rest of the planet.
As the glaciers float faster into the ocean, their stored freshwater eventually melts. This freshwater is then mixed with saltwater and the process of separating them both, called water desalination, is extremely difficult and requires a lot of energy.
Secondly, melting ice increases seawater levels. That translates into flooding of beaches and damage to coastal cities.
Antarctica: Time zones
Due to its position right around the south pole, Antarctica does observe a number of differences from the rest of the world. For example, we have just learned that winter and summer each last for six months. Likewise, daylight and night seem to last longer than normal.
While the average daylight length in most of the world is 12 hours, the daylight length in Antarctica is six months! Similarly, night lasts for another six months. More elaborately, in winter, it is always dark. The Sun never rises. So the 24 hours of the day are actually night. So repeatedly, the season is just a series of long continuous nights.
Alternatively, the Sun is always there in summer. It never sets for six continuous months. That means it is daylight for 24 hours.
That is caused because of Earth’s tilt while rotating around the Sun.
Earth’s axis is not exactly vertical. It is tilted by 23.5°, resulting in the north pole being at a closer distance from the Sun during June, July, and August and thus receiving more light and heat. Consequently, it is summertime in the northern hemisphere.
On the other hand, during the same months, the south pole is at a further distance from the Sun. Thus, it receives less and less light and heat. So the same period is winter in the southern hemisphere.
And because Antarctica is at the south pole, and because of the Earth’s 23.5° tilt, Antarctica is almost completely hidden from the sunlight during those June to August months. So it is not just a cold winter, but a cold, totally dark winter.
That said, Antarctica does observe nine different time zones, having a 15-hour variation and ranging from GMT-3 to GMT+12.
Oh boy! That was a long, long journey.
In this article, we have demonstrated incredibly interesting and important facts about the world’s continents, not just the seven ones the world is currently made of, but also the supercontinents that those seven once were.
In the very first section, about a minute of scroll-up, we defined what it takes for one landmass to be classified as a continent. We also learned that such a definition loosens and tightens on random occasions. As a result, some lands are continents and others are not, though they specify the conditions.
Then, we went on an adventure in history and geography and learned how the continents were discovered. Thanks to the European explorers, the world now knows about Africa, the Americas, Australia, and Antarctica. Yet, let’s not forget how costly those discoveries were for the indigenous people of each one of those continents.
Then, we went even more backward in time to the moment the Earth had settled as a planet. That was about the same time when Earth’s layers and then the supercontinents started to develop.
For billions of years, supercontinents formed and fragmented due to tectonic plate activity. This was a theory called Continental Drift. It was proposed by a German geologist which he could not fully justify despite all the evidence he drove to prove it.
Lastly, in a larger section, we tackled continents individually. We roamed through each continent’s distinctive features of geography, population, and climate. We also learned how time in the different locations on Earth is determined and demonstrated the time zones each continent observes.
And as we are coming to the end of this geography episode, we hope you enjoyed reading it as much as we loved to write it for you. We also want you to always remember how precious our planet is and how miraculous the universe we float in is.
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