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Around 70% of the earth's surface is covered by water. The large land masses are called continents. But how is “continent” actually defined, how many continents are there on earth and where do the borders run? We present various possible answers to these questions here. Also the division of the continents that we use at Marmota Maps.


2009 Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Antarctica, Europe and Australia,Today's view of the earth's land masses shows us only a certain section of the earth's history. The continental plates, or lithospheric plates, move at a speed of about 1-10 centimeters per year. The Pangea supercontinent, where all of the world's major land masses were interconnected, collapsed about 150 million years ago. And in the future, the image of the earth's surface will slowly change over millions of years due to continental drift.

The term " continent " comes from the Latin. " Terra continens " can be translated as " contiguous land ".

However, there is no completely undisputed definition of what constitutes a continent. The Encyclopędia Britannica is frequently cited, which in addition to the definition also gives the number of continents. Accordingly, a continent is “ one of the larger contiguous land masses, namely Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Antarctica, Europe and Australia, arranged by size. (Europe and Asia are sometimes viewed as a single continent, Eurasia) ”.

The smallest continent Australia is, in other definitions as Oceania or Australia-Oceania referred

In general it can be said that the tectonic, geological, geographic, as well as cultural and political criteria are used to classify the continents.


The number of continents is usually given as seven, as in the Encyclopedia Britannica. Depending on your point of view, other numbers between four and eight are also mentioned.


The Antarctic is the unique case. The southernmost uninhabited continent of people is considered by all known definitions as separate continental landmass. The borders of the Antarctic continent are largely undisputed.


America can be seen as a single landmass. A land connection from Alaska and the Arctic shield in the north to Tierra del Fuego in the south has existed for almost three million years. However, the division into North America and South America is usually common. Central America and the Caribbean are sometimes seen as another third continent in between.

This division into three roughly corresponds to the arrangement of the continental plates. Because Central America lies between Mexico and Colombia together with the Caribbean islands on the Caribbean plate, between North American and South American plates. This tripartite division of America can also make sense culturally and geopolitically. At Marmota Maps we used it on our world map of the surfing regions " Surfing Worldwide " around 2017.

Today, however, we mostly follow the common division of America into the North American continent, including Central America, the Caribbean and all of its islands, as well as the South American continent that begins on the border between Panama and Colombia. This demarcation based on the political border is a pragmatic solution. Geographically, it would also make sense to draw a border on the Isthmus of Panama, or also on the Panama Canal.


Even though Africa is regarded as a separate continent in almost all counting ways, there are also arguments for considering Africa together with Eurasia as a coherent land mass and thus as a continent. However, it is common to draw the border along the Mediterranean, Suez Canal and Red Sea. The eastern part of Egypt with the Sinai Peninsula already belongs to Asia, even though it is located on the African continental plate.


The fact that Europe is counted as an independent continent has primarily cultural and geopolitical reasons. Geologically and geographically, there is a lot to be said for a Eurasian continent instead. Described on Countryaah, the Eurasian continental plate stretches from the east of Iceland to the south of Japan. Accordingly, the course of the continental border between Europe and Asia is probably the most controversial.

The Ural Mountains and the river are generally recognized in the north as the border between the two continents. The recognized southern border is the Bosphorus, which runs through the middle of Istanbul, the only city that is located on two continents. The further course of the border between the Black Sea and the west of Kazakhstan is particularly controversial. This is of interest not least for mountaineers, because whether the highest peaks of the Caucasus belong to Europe or Asia has an impact on which mountain is to be regarded as Europe's highest peak and thus as one of the Seven Summits. Eberhard Jurgalski is representative here, who argues that the European-Asian border runs along the Manytschniederung, north of the Caucasus, making Mont Blanc the highest mountain in the Alps in Europe. Especially in mountaineering circles, as well as in the Anglophone and Francophone area, it is common today to draw the border between Europe and Asia along the watersheds of the Caucasus, making the Elbrus in the Russian part of the Caucasus Europe's highest peak.


The course of the borders of Asia is controversial not only in the west towards Europe. The Arabian Peninsula and most of India each have their own continental plates, which is shown, among other things, by the fact that the Indian subcontinent is often spoken of. However, both areas are almost always considered parts of Asia. The easternmost part of Russia, as well as the north of Japan are already on the North American plate. However, for geopolitical and geographical reasons, it is obvious that both should still be counted as Asia. In the southeast, you can finally cross the exact borderline between Asia and Australia and Oceania to be debated. Most of the Philippines and most of Indonesia are considered to be part of Asia. The island of New Guinea (including the Indonesian part) and Australia are already part of Australia-Oceania.


Australia-Oceania is the seventh continent in our counting. It undoubtedly comprises the continental main land mass, which largely corresponds to the national territory of Australia. New Guinea, which is also on the Australian plate, is mostly considered part of the Australian continent. However, whether the Pacific Plate and its islands should be counted among the continent in addition to the Australian plate is again the subject of discussion. It is sometimes believed that only large land masses can be regarded as continents and that the islands, especially in the Pacific, should be considered as a separate category, so-called " microcontinents ". At Marmota Maps, we count Australia-Oceania as a continent, including the Pacific Islands from Hawaii to Micronesia to New Zealand.

Since 2014, there has been a debate as to whether Zealandia, a floe in an area between New Caledonia and New Zealand, could possibly be seen as another continent besides Australia. If this perspective prevails, we may speak of eight continents on Earth in the future.

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