What is a continent?
We explain what a continent is and how many continents there are. In addition, some of its characteristics and what are the oceans.
What is a continent?
When we talk about the continents, we refer to the large areas of the earth’s crust that are emerging from the oceans , and which considerably exceeds even the largest of the islands.
The word continent comes from the Latin continent, derived from terra continents or “continuous lands” . But the criterion to define what is or is not a continent is of a historical and cultural type, so it has varied over time , as well as they have varied, although throughout the millennia of the geological history of the planet , the location of the continents and the distance that separates them. In fact, in prehistoric times all continents integrated various supercontinents, known as Pangea , Pannotia, etc.
From a geographical point of view, the continents are the largest land organizations in the world , in which the islands that are more or less close to their coasts have a place.
The continents formed from the cooling of the earth’s crust , and are mainly composed of granite and associated rocks, unlike the oceanic crust, where basalt and gabbro predominate. Their initial appearance seems, as their current forms suggest, to have taken place in a very different way, since throughout the millennia the continental drift has moved them, separated, gathered and moved away successively, modifying both the climate and the visible appearance of the planet surface.
How many continents are there?
There is no single way to enumerate the continents, since each continental model offers its own vision of this . Thus, there are models that identify 4, 5, 6 and 7 continents, the latter being the most recognized in English-speaking countries (Africa, Antarctica, South America , Asia, Europe, North America and Oceania); while in other regions the one of 6 is used (unifying America); and in specific areas of geology, 5 is accepted, more similar to tectonic plates (joining Europe and Asia on the same continent, Eurasia).
In recent times (2017) the theory was proposed that there is an additional continent called Zealandia , which would have been submerged in the waters of the Pacific Ocean millennia ago.
The “black continent”, as it is nicknamed by the racial predominance of its population , is the original continent of humanity, where Homo sapiens first saw the world . This continent is linked to Asia by the Suez Isthmus and separated from Europe by the Strait of Gibraltar and the Mediterranean Sea. Its oceanic limits are: to the west the Atlantic and to the east the Indian. It has a total area of 30,272,922 km2 (20.4% of the world’s emerging lands) on which 15% of the world’s population lives, about one billion inhabitants, spread across 54 countries.
Traditionally separated in three geographical regions: North, Central and South America, and made up of 35 countries, this continent is nicknamed the “new”, because its existence was known in Asia and Europe only in the fifteenth century , millennia after it was populated from Asia by primitive humanity. Geographically, America borders the Arctic Ocean in the north, is separated from Antarctica by the Drake Passage in the south, and is surrounded by the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in the east and west respectively. The second largest land mass in the globe, has a total area of 43,316,000 km2 (equivalent to 30.2% of the surface emerged) on which about 12% of humanity lives.
The largest and most populous continent in the world, with an area of almost 45 million km2 (more than 30% of the surface emerged) and a population of 4 billion inhabitants (69% of the world’s population) spread across 49 countries, It is located in the eastern half of the Northern Hemisphere, bordering the north with the Arctic Ocean, the Indian Ocean to the south and east with the Pacific Ocean. Although geographically it constitutes a separate continent, it forms a single land mass with Europe , and once formed with it the Supercontinent of Eurasia. Asia is separated from Africa by the Suez isthmus and covers a huge number of islands between the Pacific and Indian oceans.
United to Asia in the same continental mass, but geographically located in the north-central part of the Northern Hemisphere, is the European continent, with its 10,530,751 km2 of total surface area (6.8% of the emerged lands) and its population of 743,704 .000 inhabitants (barely 11% of the world’s population) spread across 50 countries. Europe borders the Mediterranean Sea to the south, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, Asia and the Middle East to the east, and the Baltic Sea and the Arctic Ocean to the north. In spite of its small dimensions, Europe has played an important role in the destiny of humanity since classical times of antiquity, especially as a result of its imperial doctrines from the 15th to the 19th centuries.
This island continent, located in the southeast region of the southern hemisphere, is the smallest of all, with just 9,008,458 km2 . However, it houses about 40,117,432 inhabitants, spread across 15 countries, between the continental shelf (Australia) and its smaller islands in the Pacific (New Zealand, New Guinea, Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia). Its limits are with the Indian Ocean to the west, the Pacific to the east, the Antarctic to the south, and the islands of South Asia to the north.
The southernmost continent on the planet, located almost at the south pole, is a land mass of 14,000,000 km2 of which only 280,000 km2 are discovered ice during the summer . It is, therefore, the coldest, driest and windiest continent in the world , as well as the highest of all. For that reason it was the last continent to be discovered and colonized by humanity, and it lacks its own population, just being visited by scientists, military and specialists who do not exceed 5,000 people, distributed in 60 bases belonging to 30 different countries.
Continents and oceans
Contrary to the emerging continents, the ocean surface is the portion of the earth’s crust that is under seawater , forming in its largest areas what we know as oceans: the large areas of salt water that separate the continents from each other, covering 71% of the planet. In the world we recognize five different oceans:
- Atlantic Ocean. Separating America and Europe to the north and America and Africa to the south, it has a maximum length of 14,700 km (NS) and houses a volume of water of 354,700,000 km3.
- Indian Ocean. Located south of the Indian subcontinent, between Asia, Africa and Oceania, it has a maximum width of 10,000 km and houses a volume of water of about 292,131,000 km3.
- Pacific Ocean. The largest of all the oceans is found separating America from Asia to the north or America and Oceania to the south. Its surface reaches 155,557 km2 and its maximum length is 15,000 km. It contains about 714,839,310 km3 of water.
- Arctic Ocean. As the name implies, it is located in the circumpolar region of the north, and is the smallest ocean on the planet. Its surface is just 14,056,000 km2 and separates North America from North Asia and Europe.
- Antartic Ocean. Located around the continental coast of Antarctica, it is the southernmost ocean on the planet and has an area of 20,327,000 km2, bordering the southern part of the Pacific and Indian oceans.