How Many Continents Are There?

The answer might not be what you think it is:

H/T: Ezra Klein

FILED UNDER: Open Forum,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Trumwill says:

    I really wish this video had been out when I was young. The whole “7 continents” thing never made much sense to me and it would have been helpful to know that everybody was just winging it.

    The bit about Antarctica being an archipelago is interesting. I’ll have to do more reading on that.

  2. While Europe and Asia are not separrated by an ocean in the topological sense, they were in practical sense until relatively recently, as a long boat trip was the only real way of getting from one to the other.

  3. Just nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Stormy Dragon: And yet trade caravans between Europe and Asia (particularly India and China) are part of a historical record that goes back a thousand or so years. Hmmm………..

  4. Brett says:

    I would hesitate to call Antarctica an “archipelago” simply because most of western Antarctica has been crushed by the ice sheets down to below sea level. It’s been a single land-mass for a long time, and would eventually be one again if the ice disappeared over night (the land would gradually start rising again).

    I’m more comfortable calling North and South America separate continents than I am separating Eurasia from Africa. The connection between North and South America is extremely recent in geological terms, emerging from volcanism 3 million years ago. They were separate continents for far longer than they were connected by a narrow piece of mostly basaltic land (to the point where South America had a lot of strange, unique megafauna).

    If you wanted to go even further in terms of continental connection, you could have Eurasia, Africa, and the Americas as a single continent because of the underwater continental plateaus that connect them, and which have occasionally been dry during ice ages (Beringia for example).

    As for Australia, it’s a matter of degree . . . but Australia really is much larger than the next biggest land mass (Greenland), with 7.6 million square km versus Greenland’s 2.166 million square km. Most of it is granitic continental rock, including a big chunk of cratons (the oldest land masses that served as proto-continents).

  5. Sarah Palin says:

    See? Science confuses people and has no answers. Earth is lat and God made it. That’s all you need to know.

  6. @Just nutha ig’rant cracker:

    The land routes didn’t connect Europe to Asia, they connected India and the Far East to the Levant and Egypt. Goods still had to be brought to Europe by ship. It wasn’t until the Age of Discovery that there were direct trade routes from Asia to Europe, and they involved going all the way around Africa.