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Continental Margins

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How Many Continents Are There?
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How Many Continents Are There?

                      

Credit: CIA World Fact Book
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:CIA_WorldFactBook-Political_world.pdf
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

There are seven continents. No, there are four. Maybe all the large islands are actually continents so there are 12. What’s the right answer?

Why It Matters

There is no simple, consistent definition of what a continent is. The number of continents depends on how a continent is defined. A geologist would probably say that Europe and Asia are one continent. But the cultural divide between those two regions is wide, so they have been called two continents. Are Europe and Asia two separate continents? Are they one continent, Eurasia? Are North and South America separate continents? Are they one continent, America?

Credit: Alex Covarrubias
Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Continental_models.gif
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Continental models (7, 6, 5, & 4 continents) [Figure2]

Explore More

With the link below, learn more about the different ways to count the number of continents. Then answer the following questions.

  1. How does the standard definition of a continent in the English world fail?
  2. What makes Greenland appear to be the size of a continent on some maps but not on others?
  3. What happens to the number of continents if the Antarctic ice sheet melts? Why?
  4. How does the video say that geologists define continents? What do geologists really call this type of feature instead of continents?
  5. The video ends with the commentator saying that there are six continents. What are they?

Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: CIA World Fact Book; Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:CIA_WorldFactBook-Political_world.pdf; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: Alex Covarrubias; Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Continental_models.gif; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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