Scientists say they have identified a new continent, and called it Zealandia.

In a new paper, a team of 11 geologists have proposed that a region of the Pacific Ocean east of Australia and containing New Zealand and New Caledonia, be considered a continent.

Geographically speaking, six continents are recognised: Africa, Antarctica, Australia, Eurasia, North America, and South America. Eurasia is the geographical landmass that includes Europe and Asia.

At 4.9 million square kilometres, Zealandia would be Earth's smallest continent.

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Zealandia, according to scientists, includes New Zealand and New Caledonia. Graphic / GSA Today
Zealandia, according to scientists, includes New Zealand and New Caledonia. Graphic / GSA Today

It is also the "youngest, thinnest and most submerged" of the continents, as 94 per cent of the landmass is submerged, the geologists wrote.

In the paper, titled Zealandia: Earth's Hidden Continent, the geologists argue that Zealandia has all four attributes necessary to be considered a continent.

Those attributes include "high elevation relative to regions floored by oceanic crust'', and the presence of three types of rocks (igneous, or volcanic; metamorphic, or created by heat and pressure; and sedimentary, or created by erosion).

The other attributes are a thicker, less dense crust than the surrounding ocean floor, and an area large enough to distinguish it from the category of microcontinent.

"The scientific value of classifying Zealandia as a continent is much more than just an extra name on a list,'' the scientists wrote.

"That a continent can be so submerged yet unfragmented makes it a useful and thought-provoking geodynamic end member in exploring the cohesion and breakup of continental crust.''

All but one of the 11 researchers behind the paper represent organisations based in New Zealand and New Caledonia. The 11 scientist is based in Australia.